Along with many others, I have long had serious concerns about the functionality and effective purpose of our criminal “justice” system. The introduction of private corporations into the prison system raises these concerns to a new level.

The fact that roughly 25 percent of Hawaii’s prisoners are held in a private prison in Arizona should have everyone concerned.

The United States has the highest reported rate of imprisonment of any country in the world. With the increasing privatization of prisons, what happens to the already dismal efforts to reduce recidivism? Why should a private prison have any incentive to encourage rehabilitation and reduce recidivism, in fact they have every reason to do the opposite?

Hawaii has about 1,400 prisoners housed at the Saguaro Correctional Center, which sits in the Arizona desert about 70 miles southwest of Phoenix.
Hawaii has about 1,400 prisoners housed at the Saguaro Correctional Center, which sits in the Arizona desert about 70 miles southwest of Phoenix. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2016

When a state/country incarcerates excessive numbers of its people for the profit of private industry in illegally occupied sovereign nations, people need to wake up. Does anyone remember this happening in Europe last century?

When you look at the social and cultural influences in Hawaii that affect encounters/entrapment in the criminal “justice” system, one must remember that typically, on one level or another, those most impacted within that system find its governmental, social, cultural, educational and economic foundations to be completely alien — an alien occupying colonial bureaucratic paradigm that unfortunately perpetuates the problem it so fervently works to manage.

Meanwhile those responsible for the collapse of the world economy made millions of dollars and never faced any legal consequences. Those aforementioned systems are not at all alien to them; they are in fact designed to protect them.

So who are the real criminals and how do we begin to solve these problems?

The dominant colonial economy in Hawaii carries with it the seeds of the disease we face. From sugar to corporate hotels to GMO seed farms, the exploitation of Hawaii and her people perpetuates their imprisonment.

Perhaps we should start by throwing out the pretense that the goal of this system is to carry out justice. Let’s quit with the almost Orwellian double-speak of criminal justice and call it the penal system, punishment paradigm for breaking the rules, pure and simple.

The real goal is to keep things as they are and protect the powerful.

Where was the justice in the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom? Again the big players made big bucks, locals faced the loss of much of their viable connection to the land, condemnation of their cultural foundations and an end of a sustainable subsistence economy to be replaced by a colonial plantation economy. The foundations for cultural genocide, alienation and imprisonment in the criminal penal system were laid.

So we face what is unfortunately the normal result in these circumstances, Native Hawaiians incarcerated at a rate much higher than their now-outnumbered percentage of the population.

Without recognizing these roots of alienation and anger, the current lack of viable culturally relevant opportunities that face many of those trapped in the criminal penal system, any solutions are window dressing at best.

I haven’t even started on the criminalization of chemical dependency, which is responsible for much of our prison overcrowding. I do have to honor the work done in our local drug courts to seek a viable alternative to incarceration for those with chemical dependency issues. I have seen our local drug court help many people, but again the roots of our problems run much deeper than finding a recovering addict a job at McDonald’s. Getting people to “behave” without addressing underlying injustices does not solve the real problems.

The dominant colonial economy in Hawaii carries with it the seeds of the disease we face. From sugar to corporate hotels to GMO seed farms, the exploitation of Hawaii and her people perpetuates their imprisonment.

Returning to old and innovating new sustainable practices that respect culture and the environment, that give hope for the future and empower people can allow hope and vision to grow; without these we will fail. We must create the alternative to the exploitative, short-sighted system that is destroying all that is of real value, and dooming many of our children to unnecessary imprisonment.

For those who do end up in prison, how about an emphasis on trade/career training, transition and culturally relevant treatment programs that reduce recidivism?

How about allowing (or hopefully, encouraging) the resurrection of traditional fishing and farming practices, by changing regulatory and tax structures to recognize that in this case, monetary generation takes a secondary place to the greater importance of regenerating sustainable culture, agriculture and life-sustaining values? Why is subsistence farming not recognized (no less encouraged) by the state and county governments?

I enjoy asking people if they know how many hours per day were spent working in a hunter/gatherer culture. The average was four hours. That left plenty of time for developing tight family and clan bonds, ceremony, and recreation that maintained cohesive societal units.

We have become slaves and many of us haven’t noticed. Generations of cultural disrespect and economic exploitation have left plenty of alienation and dysfunction that need healing in order to create a more functional dynamic with a diversity of choices available to the people of Hawaii.

We are on many levels at a crossroads. We need to create viable alternatives that allow people to live balanced healthy lives supportive of family, community and our islands, preserving and creating viable alternatives for our mo’opuna. The corporate profit paradigm will perpetuate private prisons, alienation and destruction. We have to choose. The roots of our penal system lie in controlling populations that are exploited and discontent. This whole paradigm is diseased from its birth and must be replaced with a system based on restorative justice. In Hawaiian terms, Pu’uhonua.

They are very similar concepts from what I can tell. I will defer to Hawaiians to describe/create a modern Pu’uhonua. I believe that Ohana Ho’opakele has spent years advocating for just such an alternative to incarceration. I leave it to our legislators and bureaucrats to search their own souls and explain why such efforts have not been embraced, or as far as I know, explored. Could that have anything to do with inherent biases and a failure to explore the root problems of our failed system?

The concept of restorative justice is to right the wrongs and create an environment for healing for all parties impacted by crimes  “offender” and “victim” alike. Allow offenders to make amends, so to speak, begin to repair damages, restore community and allow healing  to occur.

The idea of community service pales in comparison because there is little or no connection between the crime and the service, there is little logic and no psycho/spiritual connection between the events to catalyze healing and restoration. We need to embrace such concepts in order to create a viable alternative to a failed system.

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