An alternative solution to America’s probation problem?

Paradise on earth is how most people know Hawaii – white sandy beaches and coconut palms. But there are Hawaiians living outside the frame on the picture postcard.

The roughly 8 million tourists who visit the state each year attract a lot of property crime. Even an ocean away from the mainland, the methamphetamine market is thriving. The islands have jails and prisons, and plenty of people to fill them. But Judge Steven Alm is trying to bring his home state a little bit closer to the paradise people imagine.

To do that, he’s spearheaded an alternative probation program, one that delivers immediate consequences – often jail time — for each and every infraction. The program is tough on crime, while also keeping people out of prison. And this double feat has made it a nascent darling in the world of criminal justice policy, with states across the political spectrum seeking it out as a model…

From the deputy prosecuting attorney for Honolulu to the U.S. Attorney for Hawaii and finally judge, Alm won the respect of the law enforcement community…

That reputation gave Alm an opportunity. He knew Hawaii and the justice system. He also knew it needed a change, particularly the probation program.

…Probation is a great way to keep people out of prison, help them rebuild their lives and ease the burden on taxpayers.

The problem is that probationers rampantly violate the rules, and are often sent back to prison is at the discretion of the probation officer or presiding judge. How those authorities respond to violations varies widely from state to state, according to a 2007 Pew Study, with “enormous implications” for prison population size, cost and public safety…

In 2004, Alm founded HOPE, short for Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement. Its central principle is simple, Alm explained: “If there are any violations of probation, they’re going to go to jail.”

There also are opportunities and judicial/parole officer discretion exists especially for probationers who are honest and timely about reporting and discussing violations. This was an excellent piece of news reporting – and I hope the video is available sooner rather than later.

Please RTFA. It’s longish and thoughtful. Judge Alm’s system is bringing results – at a minimum 55% of probationers do not re-offend. Other qualities measured have even better results.

So far, 17 states and a number of other countries are on board to give his system a trial. No, New Mexico isn’t one of them; I can’t offer any local evidence.

But, please, read the whole article. If you have access to AJAM, AlJazeera in America from your TV content providers, watch for the documentary on one of their evening news programs. I imagine they’ll rerun it.

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