Doug Chin’s campaign for Congress presents a carefully curated progressive image on issues ranging from criminal justice reform to policies impacting women, the Native Hawaiian community and LGBTQ persons. 

Yet there’s a stark contrast between Chin’s election-year posturing and his prior record as a city prosecutor, corporate lobbyist and Hawaii’s attorney general. Media coverage of his campaign has paid scant attention to this troubling dichotomy.

Doug Chin’s election-year makeover can’t be taken on face value given a hard-line conservative record that would be more suitable in a partisan Republican contest on the continent.

Chin’s overall prosecutorial record is one where the rights of the poor, the unsheltered and Native Hawaiians were shortchanged in favor of an approach that seeks maximum criminalization and maximum punishment. Indeed, it is the antithesis of the “smart justice” approach favored by reform organizations ranging from the ACLU to the Charles Koch Institute. 

His Democratic Attorneys General Association profile boasts about being a “Top Gun” for winning the most trials in a year as a city prosecutor. This is in alignment with the perception among Honolulu defense attorneys and community reformers that he was an unduly harsh “hammer.” 

Congressional Candidate Doug Chin Dem Party Convention.

Congressional Candidate Doug Chin at the Democratic Party of Hawaii state convention in Kona in late May.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The same profile also notes that he “held firm on the inclusion of strict law enforcement terms” to regulate Hawaii’s long overdue, over-regulated medical cannabis dispensaries. Chin’s policy evolution now officially supports “a reasoned pathway for future legalization” but is unclear as to how and when Hawaii should join the entire West Coast, Nevada, Alaska and four other states. 

Geographic separation has been a hard reality for many Hawaii families of prisoners. Chin played a key role in making that happen. Before his appointment as attorney general, he successfully lobbied on behalf of the Corrections Corporation of America, now CoreCivic, to house Hawaii prisoners in Arizona. A 2010 report from the Hawaii Auditor detailed a host of deficient management practices, including the lack of written contracting and procurement policies. Poor conditions in the Arizona prison received local and international media attention, and formal substantive government oversight remains elusive.

In a spectacular election-year conversion, Chin’s website says he now supports “closing private prisons and detention centers.” It remains unclear whether that extends to those where his former corporate client still profits from the over-incarceration of Hawaii residents.

Chin currently claims that “Hawaii is a strong example of a system that works” regarding criminal justice policy. In contrast, the interim report of the HCR 85 Corrections Reform Task Force observes that Hawaii’s system “is not producing acceptable, cost-effective, and sustainable outcomes.”

Figures provided by the Department of Public Safety indicate that almost three-quarters of those incarcerated are there for Class C felony offenses or lower. Roughly 300 parolees are sent back to prison each year for technical violations of their supervision at great cost to taxpayers.

This current system works against Native Hawaiians, who are disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system from policing to long periods of correctional supervision. This maltreatment was detailed in a 2010 report from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. Reforms proposed by the subsequent Native Hawaiian Criminal Justice Task Force remain largely ignored.

Chin’s Record On Jails, Prisons

Attorney General Chin also opposed modest criminal justice reforms in the Legislature to help reduce Hawaii’s jail and prison population. Among these was a measure informed by the Justice Reinvestment Initiative that raised the felony theft threshold. Another was a 2016 measure that decriminalized drug paraphernalia.

Chin also oversaw the administration of one of the nation’s worst civil asset forfeiture laws. A recent report by the Hawaii Auditor confirmed that many innocent property owners had their property seized and forfeited without even being charged with a crime. Further, millions of dollars required by law to fund drug prevention programs were instead diverted to law enforcement salary enhancements. 

Doug Chin’s conservative record belies today’s progressive packaging.

In 2017, Chin spearheaded Gov. David Ige’s legislative effort to criminalize trespassing on state lands, which would have had a very chilling effect on the practice of Native Hawaiian cultural traditions and other protected First Amendment activity. According to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, the bill was “part of a very misguided and harmful effort to respond to visible poverty through criminalization.”

Chin has publicly distanced himself from prior support of fundamentalist sectarian groups that dehumanize and harm LGBTQ individuals through the promotion of so-called “reparative therapy” to “cure” the purported malady of same-sex attraction. To his credit, he supported the law enacted this year that bans the practice against minors. He also supports a federal law prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ persons. Again, this is another conspicuous election-year conversion.

In short, Doug Chin’s conservative record belies today’s progressive packaging. He remains the wrong choice for Hawaii.

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