KAILUA-KONA — West Hawaii has no transitional housing for offenders and parolees returning to the community, and the state wants to change that.
With less than 2 percent of criminal offenders sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, the majority of offenders will return to their communities, increasing the need for clean and sober transitional housing, according to Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Toni Schwartz.
Housing, studies show, is a “stabilizing” force for those returning from incarceration and can give people a better chance at successfully re-entering a community and not reoffending, according to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homeless.
In addition, the first month after release is also a vulnerable period “during which the risk of becoming homeless and/or returning to criminal justice involvement is high,” according to a Council of State Governments Justice Center policymakers guide.
“Clean and Sober Homes give them the ability to live in an alcohol and drug-free environment that eases the difficulties of reentry into the community, provides immediate, interim housing as they work on securing their own permanent housing,” Schwartz said. “This provides the transitioning offender the best opportunity for success when reentering society, be law-abiding citizens and not recidivating.”
The department’s Corrections Division is seeking qualified nonprofit or for-profit providers to provide clean and sober housing for about 30 adult male and 20 adult female offenders/parolees in West Hawaii, particularly the Kona area, according to a request for proposals posted Nov. 23. The department’s also looking for a provider on Oahu to house 100 adult males and 25 adult females there.
“Establishing such a program in West Hawaii will be a benefit for those from this area. It will provide the individual with a real chance to successfully transition from prison living to parole,” Schwartz said. The adult offender/parolees would be referred by the department or the Hawaii Paroling Authority.
The department is slated to open submitted proposals on Christmas Eve, which is Monday.
The state will pay $165,000 for services in West Hawaii and $285,000 for services on Oahu for a total of $450,000 per year, according to the RFP. The contract would run two years, Jan. 1, 2019, to Dec. 31, 2020, with an option to extend for a third year.
According to the request, the department will pay the parolees’ first month of rent, with the possibility of going to up to eight months due to the housing crisis caused by the Kilauea eruption earlier this year. Such an extension would require department approval of a written request submitted by the provider.
The facility must be drug-, tobacco- and alcohol-free 24/7; with the exception for medically prescribed substances. Separate spaces must be provided for men and woman as males and females are prohibited from sharing the same room. The provider must also make housing available to sex offenders.
The housing would be geared for offenders/parolees with an “identified need for substance abuse support as they transition to becoming law-abiding citizens in the community.”
The state-contracted home would be the first of its kind on the island, though there are agencies and individuals here that offer clean and sober living. Among them is the Bridge House in Kailua-Kona, according to the department’s 2018 community resource guide, which is available to all inmates and families to help them with finding resources in the community prior to release.
An online search also brings up additional clean and sober housing on the island, but that is not included in the state guide, which cautions maintaining the list is challenging since there is no clearinghouse that keeps such data.
“The Department of Public Safety is very thankful for the community providers who are currently servicing this population, and we are always looking for more providers willing to help inmates as they re-enter society,” Schwartz said.
Whether state-contracted or independently run, transitional and clean and sober homes play an important role in getting back into the real world, said Becky Morset, a West Hawaii woman currently on parole.
Upon parole from prison a year and a half ago, she secured herself a spot for about a month at Bridge House where she got the resources to secure a job, which she still holds. She then headed to another clean and sober living home, where she’s currently residing in an “independent portion” of the home.
Morset credits her success to those resources, adding she is “incredibly grateful” for the services she’s received along the way. They plan an important in role in succeeding upon release from incarceration, having served their sentence.
“It’s sorely needed. These beds will be great,” she said.