Hawaii needs to overhaul its correctional system, shifting focus from incarceration to rehabilitation, according to a new report to the Legislature.

The report compiled by a task force led by Supreme Court Justice Michael Wilson calls for broad correctional reforms, including providing better training to correctional workers, reducing the overrepresentation of Native Hawaiians in prisons and better preparing inmates for life after prison.

Among its other recommendations are bringing about 1,350 Hawaii prisoners incarcerated in Arizona back home and holding off on relocating the Oahu Community Correctional Center from Kalihi to Halawa.

Womens Community Correctional Center WCCC Hawaii prison razor wire.

The task force said plans to build a new Oahu Community Correctional Center are premature.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“Reforming our correctional system will not be quick or easy,” the 136-page report says in its foreword. “It took us 40 years to create the problems we document in this report, and it will take many years to fix them, but it can be done if we are committed to creating a better system and have the courage to engage (and when necessary confront) the punitive mentality that created and sustains the current failed system.”

The HCR 85 Task Force that published the report was formed by the Legislature in 2016 to study Hawaii’s incarceration policies. Members included Wilson, state Rep. Gregg Takayama, state Sen. Clarence Nishihara, Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees Chair Colette Machado, Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro and several community advocates, including Robert Merce from the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation.

It’s unclear how many task force members favored the recommendations in the report.

Gov. David Ige’s plans to build a new 1,333-bed jail have already been called into question by some members of the task force. The new prison could cost $525 million.

The task force report takes aim at almost every aspect of Hawaii’s criminal justice system, but particularly emphasizes refocusing on rehabilitation instead of punishment.

“The governor’s office will be carefully reviewing the recommendations and working with stakeholders to determine the best way forward,” Cindy McMillan, spokeswoman for Ige, said Friday.

The report notes the disproportionate number of Native Hawaiians in prison. Hawaiians are overrepresented at every level of Hawaii’s correctional system, from arrest to incarceration, a 2010 study by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs found.

A 10-year study of youth arrests in Hawaii found that Native Hawaiians accounted for 41 percent of juvenile arrests.

It also criticized Hawaii’s dependence on private, out-of-state prisons, and recommended changes in treatment of young offenders.

“Programs designed to bring about behavioral changes by facilitating personal health, growth, and development were effective, while programs oriented towards instilling discipline through regimen or fear are not,” the report said.

A rehabilitative focus could lower recidivism rates — the rate at which those released from prison reoffend. In Hawaii, that rate is 53 percent of parolees.

Of inmates who serve maximum sentences, about 86 percent are back behind bars within two years, according to the report.

“How do we shape their lives for the better? How do we change the behavior that landed them in prison and make them good citizens who we would want to live next door to us?” the report asks.

It recommends implementing systems from other states, and even other countries like Norway, which allow prisoners to go to work and school.

It said the correctional system should reflect Hawaiian values, like “hooponopono” (to put something right, a mental cleansing).

“Our correctional system should be rooted in the values of Hawaii and should reflect the Aloha Spirit in all of its manifestations,” the report says.

Another group, the HCR 134 task force, was formed by the Legislature to compile a report on pretrial practices, including bail reform.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the HCR 134 Task Force did not yet publish its report. The report was published in December.

Read the report on prison reform below.



DEC 28 REVISED Final HCR 85 Report (Text)

Will you help us?

There are upsides to being a nonprofit as we carry out our public-service mission. We don’t have a paywall on our site, charge a subscription fee, or clutter our articles with ads. But this also means that reader support sustains every aspect of what we do. Without you, we don’t exist. It’s as simple as that. By donating, you’re supporting everyone on staff—and allowing unbiased, investigative journalism to thrive. If you value our work, will you make a tax-deductible donation today?

About the Author