Women’s Court pilot program aims to reduce number of women in prison

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Terran Pavao was once Hawaii’s most wanted.

“My ice addiction began and the drug held me captive for 15 years from the age of 14 to 29,” said Pavao, a former meth addict.

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She was in and out of prison, arrested 44 times and spent almost 10 years behind bars.

“I went from pretty much living to surviving and so that was when my career as a criminal started. I’ve literally had to steal cars just to have a place to sleep,” Pavao said.

The Oahu-native has been six years sober and is now living in Las Vegas. She’s using her experience as a lesson for others. However, not everyone takes that path.

“There was a huge increase in women incarcerated since 1980 about a 400% increase of women in prison compared to 50 percent for men,” said Judge R. Mark Browning, Chief Judge of the First Circuit.

Judge Browning is one of many people behind a pilot program called Women’s Court. It aims to take criminal offenders and instead of just locking them up, offer them services like trauma treatment, family support, domestic violence prevention and substance abuse treatment.

“It’s going to be tailored to the person and it’s not a one size fits all approach,” said Rep. Linda Ichiyama for Moanalua Valley, Salt Lake, Aliamanu. “It’s more of what does this person need? What is the trauma or underlying causes that led them to be involved in the criminal justice system.”

With this, Ichiyama and Browning hope to end what for many incarcerated individuals are generations of trauma.

“You’re talking about taking mothers away from their children and placing them in prison and what happens to the children is they suffer,” said Browning. “They end up part of some sort of system whether that’s the Child Protective Services system or the juvenile justice system or welfare.”

Women’s Court will start later this year with up to 60 women. At the end of the pilot program in 2025, the Legislature will determine if it’ll continue and expand to the rest of the state.

Pavao said she hopes other women can be led down the right path with this new program.

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“Allow healing to happen so that they can live a different life and truly succeed when they come out — and be with their family, be with their kids and experience healthy relationships,” said Pavao. “My hope for them is to actually truly live life.”

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