RJ in Prison: Interview by Howard Zehr on Huikahi Reentry Circles

“The Huikahi Restorative Circle helped me go places I’ve never been before, take steps I’ve never taken.”  -Linda Apo   Read Linda’s Story

In 2004 Hawai‘i Friends of Restorative Justice (HFRJ), in collaboration with Ted Sakai, warden of Hawai’i’s Waiawa Correctional Facility and the Community Alliance on Prisons, worked to develop and apply this innovative reentry planning process.

The Huikahi Reentry Circle process is a pioneering work according to Howard Zehr. It was designed by Lorenn Walker, with the help of her late teacher Insoo Kim Berg, for imprisoned people and their families to address healing, and how an incarcerated person’s needs for their successful reentry into the community and a law abiding life, could be met. The process also addresses the need for reconciliation for all the participants.

Over 20 papers on the development and study of the reentry circles have been published. Research shows the circles reduce recidivism and that children of incarcerated parents and other loved ones have sustained satisfaction and healing as a result of the circles even in cases where the incarcerated person has relapsed/reoffended and is re-incarcerated.

Two of the earliest papers published on the process tell the story of one family, which had one of the first circles in 2005 and how they were doing five years later. Please see the two companion papers published June 2006, Federal Probation Journal, “Restorative Circles: A Reentry Planning Process for Hawaii Inmates” and June 2010, Federal Probation Journal, “Huikahi Restorative Circles: A Public Health Approach to Reentry Planning.” Also see: Huikahi Restorative Circles: Group Process for Self-Directed Reentry Planning and Family Healing, European Journal of Probation, Walker, October 2010, 2:2, p. 76-95, and many of the other papers published on the process.

As of December 2023, HFRJ has provided 200 reentry circles that 822 people have participated. All except one reported it was a positive experience. The one person who found the process was “mixed” operates a religious home for men out of prison. He believed the men, whose circle he participate in, were not capable of making plans that included how they might reconcile with their loved ones.

The Reentry Circle process was the subject of a 2007 Hawai‘i state legislative bill that was passed to fund the Circles and is part of a grass roots movement in Hawai‘i to improve the prison system and to provide more effective prisoner reentry processes to include restorative justice. In 2007 the state legislature appropriated $202,000 to department of public safety directing that it: “shall contract the services of a provider to establish restorative circles pilot programs…” (p. 972). No contracts were requested or were issued and zero funds were used to pilot the reentry circle program as a result of that 2007 legislation (despite what some officials claimed in 2023).

In 2022 the state legislature again appropriated funds to provide the circles in prisons. This time the state prison system, under the same leadership that denied the program in 2007, issued a request for contracts. HFRJ filed a lengthy and detailed response to its first request for proposals (RFP) to provide the program appropriated by Act 118 (Haw. Sess. Laws 2022) where the legislature directed that: “The sum appropriated [$200,000] shall be expended by the department of public safety for the purposes of this Act.” But three months later PSD “canceled” the contract request because PSD leadership believed HFRJ’s proposed cost of $4500 per circle was “not reasonable” when PSD “already has a checklist” for individuals; because WorkNet’s “subcontractor” work was not described; and other complaints (that could have been sorted out with communication/negotiation). PSD issued a second request for contracts that WorkNet, Inc., a partner of HFRJ collaborates with, and that too was denied—for reasons that are not understandable.

People from all over the world have contacted HFRJ about the Huikahi reentry circle process over the years. Organizations in New York, California, Washington DC, Pennsylvania and abroad have replicated it, and HFRJ has trained and/or presented on the process including in Vermont, North Carolina, California, Washington DC, New York, India, Serbia, Finland, Japan, Spain, Brazil, Israel, Tobago, Italy, the Netherlands, Singapore, Aotearoa, the United Kingdom, and Germany. Please contact Lorenn at [email protected] for more information about the program (this e-mail address is protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it).

2009 Video of mock Restorative Circle with discussion by former Circle participants on line at: http://vimeo.com/6673308