Michael Broderick, chairman of the Native Hawaiian Justice Task Force, warned media at a press conference Thursday that he wasn’t going to rush through what he had to say.

In a kukui nut, the message was this: The state can no longer ignore the growing problem of Hawaiians in prisons.

“It is a tragedy that in their homeland, Native Hawaiians are over-represented at every stage of the criminal justice system,” said Broderick, a former Family Court judge now serving as CEO at YMCA Honolulu.

The task force, created by the Hawaii Legislature and spearheaded by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, builds on a 2010 study that confirmed what many had long feared: Hawaiians are more likely to be sent to prison for longer periods than nearly every other racial or ethnic group in the islands.

The task force’s 28-page report, which can be viewed here, is the next step in ameliorating that over-representation. It followed a series of community meetings across the state in July and August where task force members heard from almost 160 people, including those in prisons.

“They shared their manao,” said Broderick who described the stories as “tragic and inspiring.”

Among the report’s 48 findings and 38 recommendations:

  • the state needs better data regarding incarcerated Hawaiians
  • the state should create an inventory of support services (e.g., mental health, substance abuse, job training)
  • the Legislature needs to increase funding for various agencies and programs across the system
  • the Legislature should reintroduce and pass bills based on Justice Reinvestment initiatives
  • the Department of Public Safety should take steps right now to improve things without legislative consent
  • DPS should allow for greater visitation and allow inmates to possess Hawaiian cultural practice items
  • the state should bring more local inmates home from Arizona prisons (“a top priority,” said Broderick)
  • correctional facility staff should be trained in trauma care and understanding of “unconscious bias”
  • the state should stop contracting with for-profit private prison companies as it does in Arizona with CCA

No wonder it took about an hour for Broderick and Kamana’opono Crabbe, OHA’s CEO, to get through their presentation and take questions. Broderick also stressed that no finding or recommendation was more important than the other.

Crabbe, who said awareness of the problems associated with too many Hawaiians in prison has existed since statehood, demanded action from the state.

“Now is the time for bold action,” he said. “This is about making our community safe and reduce crime.”

Funding and Cooperation

Broderick and Crabbe did not assign a dollar figure to how much money would be needed to implement their recommendations. But both said the cost of doing nothing would be far greater.

That is because the problems identified with Hawaii’s criminal justice system are systemic and extend over a continuum that impacts families and communities. Crabbe said the task force’s recommendations could help everyone in the system, not just Hawaiians.

“Does it matter?” said Broderick when asked about costs. “The Legislature funds things that are important to them. If it is, they will.”

Crabbe said OHA would continue to play a role in improving conditions for imprisoned Hawaiians and said federal support was likely.

Broderick, who was appointed to the task force by Gov. Neil Abercrombie, said he believed the administration would support new legislative initiatives. While the finance committee chairs in the House and Senate have not been consulted, key Hawaiian senators in leadership positions such as Clayton Hee and Brickwood Galuteria were.

“They told us to be bold,” said Broderick.

It won’t be easy. For example, the state has other priorities to fund, including retirement pay and health benefits for state workers.

Then there is deep-rooted opposition to the kind of structural and social improvements that will be needed to reform the criminal justice system.

While several Justice Reinvestment initiatives did pass the 2012 Legislature and became laws, others were held. Among the biggest critics of “JRI” was Honolulu Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro, who warned of risks to public safety should some sentenced felons be released under supervision before the end of their prison term.

Task force members expressed confidence that there would be more supporters of their ideas than detractors. Other task force members represent the city prosecutor’s office, DPS, the judiciary and the offices of public defender and the attorney general. Those groups and representatives of service providers also formed the core of the JRI group.

Which isn’t to say everyone is on the same page. While there was general consensus on the task force’s report, Broderick said their where notable disagreements. In fact, the report references them.

But Broderick and Crabbe made it clear that the state must move forward with concrete measures to reduce the number of Hawaiians in prison.

“To me, not having action is not in the vocabulary,” said Crabbe. “We must act.”

Michael Broderick and other members of the Native Hawaiian Justice Task Force.

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