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Group has 38 ideas to reduce Native Hawaiians in prison

By Audrey McAvoy

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 11:51 a.m. HST, Dec 27, 2012

A task force that spent a year studying ways to reduce the number of Native Hawaiians in prison and involved in other parts of the criminal justice system submitted a list of 38 recommendations to the state Legislature today. 

Among them is the suggestion that resources be directed toward children of incarcerated parents to reduce the number of families with successive generations in prison.

Children of incarcerated parents are at higher risk of winding up running into legal problems themselves, while education and programs for at-risk youth are inadequately funded, it said.

Incarceration and recidivism will likely decrease as poverty, unemployment, health care, housing and education are improved, the report said.

Native Hawaiians make up about one-quarter of the state’s population, but about 40 percent of the state’s inmates and those on parole.

A law created the task force after a 2010 report highlighted the disproportionate representation of Native Hawaiians in prison, on probation, on and other aspects of the criminal justice system.

The report supports Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s aim to bring back to Hawaii inmates held in private prisons on the mainland. Keeping inmates in these prisons, removes them from their home, culture, family, job prospects and community support, it said.

The task force recommended that the state recognize and support efforts to promote indigenous cultural practices in the criminal justice system. The report said this has been successful already in the Native Hawaiian community and has also worked in places like Australia, Canada and New Zealand. 

Approaches such as sentencing circles, mediation and community justice are options for some defendants, the report said.

The task force had nine members, including Office of Hawaiian Affairs CEO Kamanaopono Crabbe and representatives from the attorney general’s office, Honolulu prosecutor’s office and the state public defender’s office. 

They held public meetings on Oahu, Hawaii Island, Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Kauai last summer and visited inmates at Halawa Correctional Facility and the Women’s Community Correctional Center.

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