We will elect a governor this year, and chances are heavily in favor of the winner being a Democrat likely either the incumbent, or a member of the U.S. Congress. The Democratic Party of Hawaii has a virtual monopoly in our state government, but that is not at all apparent when taking a look at our criminal justice system.

We are putting our daughters and sons behind bars for months at a time without being convicted. That’s more than enough time to lose one’s job, one’s housing and one’s children. This is before being convicted or sentenced. While our sisters and brothers are rotting in cages, we destroy lives waiting for the constitutionally protected right to a speedy trial.

What is the demographic makeup of our sisters and brothers who we treat with such heartlessness? Due to ambiguity in definitions of Hawaiian people’s self identifiers (kanaka maoli, Hawaiian, Native Hawaiian, Pacific islander, etc.) there are huge discrepancies in the statistics.

A guard tower at OCCC in Kalihi. The author argues a different approach is needed to criminal justice reform.

The Hawaii Department of Public Safety says approximately 40 percent of people we put behind bars are indigenous people of Hawaii, while some who work with these populations say it could be as high as 80 percent.

Of course, this system also dramatically disproportionately affects the poorest and most vulnerable.

Egregious Bail Policy

Concerned citizens of conscience need very little time and energy researching the topic to see that the United States (and its colonies/occupied lands) is the world’s leader when it comes to putting people in jail or prison. There’s also demonstrably racist institutional conditions from lawmaking to law enforcement, from prosecution to sentencing and incarceration.

Cash bail is so egregiously punitive toward poor people, especially this long after all the data proves that the war on drugs is a complete failure and abjectly racist.

Mass incarceration is a result of the utter failure of the “war on drugs,” and data from states that are abandoning its policies from Kentucky to California bear this out. Across the political spectrum people agree, especially as people from all ideological persuasions jump to cash in on the profitability of decriminalized marijuana.

Bail reform policies are arguably the simplest part of the equation, and are gaining momentum in state governments across the country to obvious and stark benefit to communities that deserve it most. And yet, where do our public servants and the local Democratic Party stand on the issue?

Capitalism seems to know no limits to its brutality and both American political parties are beholden to it.

The state of Hawaii is going to build a replacement for Oahu Community Correctional Center that is literally two times too big. These plans are moving ahead while the state spends money to physically remove Hawaiians from their ancestors, culture and cosmogony by sending them to a for-profit prison in Arizona and elsewhere on the continent. This is exactly backwards.

What does the plan actually have to do with developers’ greed and the dogged Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation construction? Capitalism seems to know no limits to its brutality and both American political parties are beholden to it. Meanwhile, our local politics has even less of a check on this undue influence because of our virtual one-party system.

Standing up to the forces responsible for such wrongheaded and immoral policies would require little political will. It also might amount to a gubernatorial candidate standing out enough to win in a race that has observers squinting to make out the distinctions.

Editor’s note: The author is an organizer with Democratic Socialists of Honolulu, whose members co-authored this Community Voice. The group believes that both the economy and society should be run democratically “to meet human needs, not to make profits for a few.”

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