HPR: Native Hawaiian Justice Commission Looks at Old Issue of Hawaiian Over-Representation in Prisons

Hawaii Public Radio‘s Wayne Yoshioka filed a great story on a thoroughly lousy subject this morning: the Native Hawaiian Justice Commission’s two-day summit this week on the question of why Native Hawaiians make up “less than a quarter” of the state’s population but “more than 40 percent” of those incarcerated in our prisons (including those on the Mainland contracted to hold Hawaii inmates).

This is not even close to being a new subject. In 2010, the state’s Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) published this report exploring why Native Hawaiians were so thoroughly over-represented in the criminal justice system. It concluded that the matter was so bad it was destroying Native Hawaiian society:

It is clear that when a Native Hawaiian person enters the criminal justice system, they serve more time in prison and more time on probation than other racial or ethnic groups. Native Hawaiians are also likely to have their parole revoked and be returned to prison compared to other racial or ethnic groups. Coupled with the experiences of pa‘ahao included in the pages of this report, it is clear that Native Hawaiians are caught in a cycle of imprisonment that is perpetuated across generations.

Three years before the OHA report, Greg Mebel looked at the reasons for the disparate treatment in this MauiTime story. He found a diverse list of factors, including poverty, the high cost of living, discrimination and Hawaii’s own colonial past.

According to Yoshioka’s report, commission chairman Michael Broderick outlined virtually all the same issues, which isn’t surprising, considering how long groups have been discussing the issue around Hawaii. This fact wasn’t lost on Kauai County Councilmember Mel Rapozo, who told Yoshioka who had some pretty scathing things to say about the nearly endless discussion of this issue:

I was on the state’s anti-drug committee. I was on the county’s anti-drug committee. I quit both of ’em because it was the same old nonsense: talking, talking, talking, talking, talking. But where’s the money? It costs federal money, state money and county money. But that is one of the biggest problems that we have, and it’s one of the biggest excuses that I think we use. Oh, the economy. well, the economy hasn’t always been bad. We never did anything when the economy was good. So let’s get real.

I couldn’t locate a website for the Native Hawaiian Justice Commission, even though it was set up last year, which doesn’t bode well for the commission’s ability to reach Hawaii’s residents. I did find this PDF of the commission’s Feb. 7, 2012 hearing minutes, which lists the following nine members:

• Paul Perrone, Chief of Research & Statistics, Department of the Attorney General
• Jack Tonaki, Public Defender
• Honorable Richard K. Perkins, 1st Circuit Court Judge
• Joe Booker, Deputy Director, Public Safety
• Dr. Kamana`opono Crabbe, Office of Hawaiian Affairs
• Cheryl Marlow, Adult Client Services Branch Administrator
• Michael F. Broderick, Chair (President, CEO YMCA of Honolulu) (Public member)
• RaeDeen Karasuda, Senior Research Associate, Kamehameha Schools (Criminologist member)
• Jeff Kent, OHA Public Policy Advocate III

Photo: Biswarup Ganguly/Wikimedia Commons