Men of Pa‘a speak at state Capitol during symposium on community plans to improve correctional system in Hawaiʻi

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Approximately 70 people attended the “Breaking Cycles Symposium Update: Re-envisioning a Health, Housing and Corrections Continuum” at the state Capitol auditorium on Wednesday, March 6, 2024. State and community leaders discussed the ongoing need for a unified approach to a better, holistic, program-oriented correctional system. 

Director Tommy Johnson of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DCR) addressing attendees at the symposium. Submitted photo

Attendees included stakeholders, lawmakers and community groups and members who addressed the call to break the cycles of substance abuse, mental health needs, houselessness and generational incarceration in Hawai‘i.

Director Tommy Johnson of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DCR) thanked those in attendance for their will to change the system and the paths of the lives of inmates. “We want to change the trajectory of these people’s lives. We want to have better and safer communities. We can’t do it alone,” Johnson said. “It’s going to take us working together as a community of policymakers, to different community organizations, to the legislative branch of government, to the judicial branch of government.”

One of the efforts that the DCR is working on is the implementation of more rehabilitation services and programs. Currently, the DCR is in discussions with the Men of Pa‘a for a mentoring program for inmates at the Kulani Correctional Facility. At the symposium, Iopa Maunakea of Men of Pa‘a (Positive Action Alliance) said, it is “our kuleana” to take care of each other.

Iopa Maunakea of Men of Pa‘a, one of the guest speakers, at the event. Submitted photo

The Department is also finalizing an agreement with UH to provide ho‘oponopono services.

Such services and programs, Johnson said, would help reduce the 57% recidivism rate in Hawai‘i. “These types of culturally based programs are critically important to our paradigm shift to a more humane, culturally sensitive and effective rehabilitative model.”

Wednesday’s symposium—part of a project funded by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DCR) and led by the University of Hawai‘i Community Design Center—was an update to the first Breaking Cycles Symposium held in the fall of 2023.


At the symposium, District Court Judge Melanie May and Kainoa Castro of the Department of Health shared results of the post-booking jail diversion program in District Court of the First Circuit. The program’s goal is to identify non-violent defendants with low-level pending misdemeanor and petty misdemeanor charges, keep them out of jails and long stays at the Hawai‘i State Hospital and find another way to focus on treatment rather than incarceration.

The program is voluntary and requires collaboration with both the public defender’s office and prosecutor’s office. Upon graduation, criminal charges against the defendant are dismissed. May noted the Judiciary has supported jail diversion for more than 17 years. “The big difference now is with the buy-in and collaboration from other stakeholders, we have been able to achieve results that we have not previously seen,” she said.

During the event, Dr. Michael Champion, Senior Advisor for Mental Health and the Justice System for Gov. Josh Green, M.D., told attendees that breaking cycles is a foundational priority for the governor who has assembled a dedicated team spanning across departments and disciplines that are united in “our commitment to this effort.”


“People who experience behavioral challenges face a very high prevalence of powerlessness, trauma, and justice involvement. Our efforts to break the cycles requires a sustained commitment to redesign our mental health and justice systems with a focus on ensuring improved access to services while also reducing disparities,” Champion said.

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