HELP the Commission EXIST

Posted on Jan 19, 2024 in Feature

The Oversight Commission needs your help to be funded during the 2024 Legislative Session.

During the 2023 Legislative Session, the House and Senate did not concur on the Commission’s budget request. This means that the Commission was not funded by the Legislature, and instead, the Governor’s Office stepped in and agreed to fund the Commission for one year. The Commission’s funding will lapse on June 30, 2024, which will shut down all staff operations unless the Legislature chooses to fund the Commission this legislative session.

The Commission’s Ask
The Commission is requesting $462,134 for FY2025 which includes:

  • 4 Full Time Positions
    • Oversight Coordinator
    • Special Assistant to Oversight Coordinator
    • Reentry and Diversion Oversight Specialist
    • Jail Oversight Specialist (new position)
  • Inter-Island Travel (neighbor-island facility visits)
  • Out-State-Travel (Saguaro facility visits)
  • Memberships & Conferences
  • General Office Supplies + Equipment

Although the Commission is an independent entity, the Commission is administratively attached to the Attorney General’s office. This means the Commission’s budget is embedded in the Attorney General’s budget. The specific line item for the Commission is ATG100/EC.

Who to Contact
You can write letters, emails, call, or visit the offices of the below key legislators:

Chair of Senate Committee on Public Safety and Intergovernmental and Military Affairs (PSM)
Senator Glenn Wakai
Senate District 15
Hawai‘i State Capitol, Room 407
Phone: 808-586-8585
[email protected]

Chair of Senate Committee on Ways and Means (WAM)
Senator Donovan Dela Cruz
Senate District 17
Hawai‘i State Capitol, Room 208
Phone: 808-586-6090
Fax: 808-586-6091
[email protected]

Chair of House Committee on Corrections, Military, & Veterans (CMV)
Representative Mark Hashem
House District 19
Hawai‘i State Capitol, Room 424
Phone: 808-586-6510
[email protected]

Chair of House Committee on Finance (FIN)
Representative Kyle Yamashita
House District 12
Hawai‘i State Capitol, Room 306
Phone: 808-586-6200
[email protected]

What You Can Say
Below is an example of an email or letter that could be written to the above legislators or to your own Representative or Senator. You can find your legislator by visiting the Find Your Legislator tool here.

TO:                  Applicable Legislator

FROM:           Name, Position or Community Member
                        Department Name or Community Location

SUBJECT:     Funding for the Hawaii Correctional System Oversight Commission

Dear insert legislator’s name,

My name is insert name from insert agency or community and I am writing to request that you support the budget request from the Hawai’i Correctional System Oversight Commission (HCSOC, the Commission). The Commission is requesting $462,134 for FY25 which includes four full time positions, travel costs to visit each correctional facility, memberships and conferences, and office equipment. Given that this office is so new (office opened in July 2022), it is important to ensure they are properly funded to fulfill their mandated requirements set by Hawai’i Revised Statute 353L.

Please write in your own words the importance of oversight, and the importance of funding.

Should you have additional questions, I can be reached at insert phone number or at insert email address. Thank you.

Other Key Points
Why Do We Need Oversight? – Correctional oversight is considered national best practice and essential in preventing abuse, neglect, and unconstitutional treatment of individuals in custody. It also helps identify and share best practices and provides accurate, unbiased information to government leaders for policymaking and funding decisions. At least 20 states have correctional oversight offices.

What are the Benefits to Incarcerated Individuals and Staff? – Regular monitoring of correctional facilities benefits incarcerated people and staff by enabling the early detection of problems, and offering opportunities to fix issues before the state becomes liable.

What are the Benefits to Correctional Administrators? – Correctional administrators benefit by being able to discuss their institution’s capabilities and needs publicly, and by being offered new ideas by the HCSOC.

What are the Benefits to Stakeholders? – Judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers, and policymakers benefit from having accurate information and data about programming outcomes, living conditions, and rehabilitative and reentry efforts.

What are the Benefits to the Media and Community? – The media and general public benefit from external oversight that promotes transparency, accountability, and democratic values.

Why Does the Commission Need Staff? –  Although the Commission has existed since 2019 with five unpaid volunteer Commissioners, the HCSOC did not gain staff until July, 2022. Since then, the Commission has been able to bring an unprecedented amount of transparency and accountability to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. In 2023 alone, the HCSOC completed:

  • 50+ recommendations to PSD/DCR
  • 35 facility visits
  • 23 public reports
    • 12 monthly reports
    • 8 facility-specific reports
    • 2 strategic plans
    • 1 year in review
  • 16 public meetings

Additional Information
For any questions, please contact the Commission at [email protected]. For additional information and helpful tips on how best to advocate, please see the ACLU’s Legislative Advocacy Tools page here.