Habitual offender bill threatens homeless & "mentally ill",

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sat, 6 Feb 1999 13:28:40 -0800 (PST)

FWD  [Hawaii] Star Bulletin - Wednesday, February 3, 1999


     The proposed law could inadvertently affect the
     homeless and mentally ill, lawmakers are told

     Legislature Directory

     By Mary Adamski, Star-Bulletin

       A bill proposed by state and county criminal justice officials to
get habitual misdemeanor offenders into prison threatens mentally ill and
homeless people, state lawmakers were told.

       "The broad parameters of this bill severely impact the homeless,
chronic alcoholic, mentally ill and those who are unable to help
themselves," public defender Richard Pollack told the House Judiciary
Committee yesterday.

       "This is a huge net you're sweeping. It affects a huge number of

       The committee deferred action on the habitual-offender measure and
two other bills proposed by the law enforcement coalition, which includes
the state attorney general, prosecutors and police chiefs of the four
counties, and the U.S. attorney.

       The bill provides that a person with three prior misdemeanor
convictions may be charged with a felony for a fourth misdemeanor as
"habitual criminal behavior."

Advocates seek 'flexibility'

       Kathleen Hasegawa of the Affordable Housing and Homeless Alliance
said the bill was one of those that "could inadvertently impact on the
homeless. Do we want to put so much effort into arresting and putting them
through the court system?"

       She urged lawmakers to put money into rehabilitative and support
programs such as the downtown Safe Haven shelter for mentally ill homeless
people, which had its state funding cut last year.

       Attorney General Margery Bronster said: "This is an option; it's not
mandatory. We wanted flexibility to avoid mandatory prison for people who
should not be incarcerated."

       Honolulu Prosecutor Peter Carlisle gave examples of misdemeanor
defendants who have told police they limited the things they've stolen to
keep under the $300 limit that would kick the theft up to a felony. He gave
examples of one chronic shoplifter with 47 arrests and another with 138
arrests since 1978.

       The bill will apply the habitual-offender status for
misdemeanor-level terroristic threatening, assault, sexual assault, abuse
of a household member and criminal property damage as well as theft.


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