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Hawaii Holds Mental Health Summit Searching for Ways to Keep Mentally Ill Out of Jail

Judges, law enforcement officials, and health agency representatives recently met at the Hawaii State Supreme Court for the inaugural Hawaii Summit on Improving the Governmental Response to Community Mental Illness.  The summit was supported by SJI, the Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) and the Conference of State Court Administrators COSCA), with technical assistance from the National Center for State Courts (NCSC).

The summit helped Hawaii government agencies learn more about how they can guide people with mental illness to proper health care services before they repeatedly cycle through jails, hospitals, and courts.

During 2017 and 2018, the Hawaii Department of Public Safety (DPS) held 275 pretrial detainees in that category. The detainees with mental illness spent a cumulative 12,000 days occupying bed space at DPS before they were transferred to the Hawaii State Hospital, according to Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald. Chief Justice Recktenwald said he hoped to see a reduction in the number of “704” acquittal filings to ease the strain on the judicial system. In the first 10 months of 2019 alone, there were 440 of those filings from people who cited health issues that made them incapable of standing trial.

Chief Justice Recktenwald said solutions such as opening a crisis center could be a possibility for Hawaii. “To make that happen we need to work with the Department of Health and providers in the community to make sure those resources are in place,” Recktenwald said. “You can’t have a meaningful diversion system unless you actually have appropriate resources and a place you can take people to get treatment or care.”