The following are priority issues of the Hawaii County Prosecutor’s Office:
When elected, Mitch said he would look into cold cases with a fresh set of eyes. Mitch has kept his promise and has not only indicted several cold cases, but has also obtained convictions and brought closure to families and friends of victims.
Domestic Violence Prevention:
In order to reduce crime we need to look at the roots of crime. Domestic violence is one of the root causes of crimes.
Domestic violence has for too long been seen as a woman’s issue. However this is a huge community issue and the office of the prosecuting attorney has taken a lead role in educating the community about the effects of domestic violence.
Children coming from homes of domestic violence are more likely to commit suicide, to be involved in sexual assaults (either as offenders or as victims), to be involved with drugs and other crimes, and to be involved with domestic violence (either as victims or as offenders).
The prosecutors office not only prosecutes these cases but has been actively working toward solutions. For the last couple of years we have taken an active role in a domestic violence summit, the Family Violence Vigil and Walk, and in schools to educate students about teen dating violence and domestic violence.
After being elected as prosecutor I realized that Hawaii county had some serious issues in the prosecution of sexual assault cases.
Our office applied for and received a sexual assault prosecution grant. We hired an experienced sexual assault prosecutor from the mainland and have been making positive changes to how we prosecute these cases.
In looking at our caseload we realized that we had many cases involving young victims dealing with trauma that were unable to articulate what had happened to them.
Many times when people are going through trauma they shut down. We have seen this in veterans telling their stories about wars and we understand. Why is it so hard to understand when a young child who has been sexually molested shuts down?
To solve this problem, we received a courthouse dog named Faith. Faith has helped turn kids who were tightlipped into chatterboxes. (Note: See Faith, Hawaii’s Courthouse Dog’s Facebook page).
Veteran’s Treatment Court
For the last several years I have been very involved in veterans issues. One of my friends and former mentor, Judge Ed Kubo started a Veterans Treatment Court in Honolulu. This court work with veterans who have committed crimes. The goal of the Veterans Treatment Court is to reduce recidivism and help these veterans get back to living a
law-abiding life. The success rate from these courts has been phenomenal.
Soon after being elected I was approached and asked if we could start a Veterans Treatment Court in Hawaii County.
Judge Kubo came to the Big Island and explained how the Veteran’s Treatment Court works. We invited the judiciary and others to this talk.
In 2015, the judiciary received a federal grant and started the Veteran’s Treatment Court in Hawaii county. Veterans are the only people who have paid for our freedom, and they have done so with a blank check when everything up to and including their lives.
In the last couple of years number of juvenile cases have come down by more than 50 percent. While there are many reasons for the reduction in juvenile related crimes in Hawaii County, our office has taken a proactive approach in reducing cases of juvenile related crime. We have been working on changes inside and outside of the criminal justice system that have proven to be highly effective. An article written by The Pew Charitable Trusts spotlighted our office’s efforts.
One of the highlights in this effort is the Big Island Juvenile Intake and Assessment Center (BIJIAC), the first juvenile intake and assessment center in the State of Hawai’i. BIJIAC, which opened its doors in Hilo in 2013, provides an immediate intervention by assessing youth received from Hawai’i police officers and identifying prevalent risk behaviors. Not only does this allow police officers to return to patrol duties, but also allows BIJIAC staff the opportunity to build relationships with the youth in their care, and their families, to ultimately recommend community resources that address both behavioral and basic needs issues. The Office of the Prosecuting Attorney played an integral role in facilitating interagency participation in the development of this intervention program, and continues this support through grant administration and interagency collaboration.
I believe in many mantras and one of them is in prosecuting “smarter not harder.” After all, if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. With juvenile justice, our office decided to look closely at recidivism rates to focus on decreasing repeat offenders instead of just hitting nails with the “prosecution hammer.” In the past, we have seen recidivism rates at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility at up to 75 percent. That means that 75 percent of the youth going into the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility will commit another crime. However, the recidivism rate from BIJAC are at about 6 percent, showing that a proactive, smart approach to juvenile justice is much more successful in the long run.