END THE DISPARATE TREATMENT OF NATIVE HAWAIIANS IN THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM - Top issue for the Honolulu Prosecutor's Office

Brief Statement:

Native Hawaiians make up 18% of the adult population, but nearly 40% of the prison population, and they are overrepresented at every stage of the criminal justice system.  As Honolulu Prosecutor, Jacquie Esser will work with Native Hawaiian leaders and organizations to end the disparate treatment of Native Hawaiians in the criminal justice system.  Jacquie will implement office-wide unconscious bias training for lawyers and staff and work to implement the recommendations of the 2010 Office of Hawaiian Affairs study on the disparate treatment of Native Hawaiians in the criminal justice system, and the recommendations of the 2012 Native Hawaiian Justice Task Force.

Detailed Statement:

In 2010, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) published a landmark study which showed that Native Hawaiians are overrepresented at every stage of Hawaii's criminal justice system.  The disproportionality begins with arrest and accumulates at each stage in the system.  According to the report, Native Hawaiians make up 24% of the State's population but account for 33% of pretrial detainees, 30% of the prison population, and 41% of parole revocations.  Native Hawaiians receive longer prison sentences than most other racial or ethnic groups, they are more likely to go to prison if they are found guilty of a crime, and they are disproportionately represented in the out-of-state prison population.  They serve more time on probation than any other ephcni group except Hispanics, and they make up the largest percentage of people who return to prison for parole violations.

The OH study cites several probable causes for the overrepresentation of Native Hawaiians in the criminal legal system, beginning with their marginalization through colonialism and racism and continuing to the present where Native Hawaiians have disproportionately high levels of childhood trauma and abuse, high unemployment, high underemployment, low educational attainment levels, low income status, and significant involvement in the juvenile justice system.

In 2011 the Legislature created the Native Hawaiian Justice Task Force (NHJTF) to make recommendations on how to address the overrepresentation of Native Hawaiians in the criminal justice system.  The NHJTF held hearings throughout the State, and in 2012 issued a report that continued 48 findings and 38 recommendations, ranging from state support for early intervention programs to assist Native Hawaiians to dozens of changes to the criminal justice and correctional systems.

The NHJTF recommendations have not been implemented, and there are minimal religious and culturally based programs and activities for Native Hawaiians.  

In December of 2018 the House Concurrent Resolution 85 Task Force on Prison Reform issued a 116-page report which addressed the overrepresentation of Native Hawaiians in the criminal justice system and made a series of very sensible recommendations ranging from community-based interventions for at-risk Native Hawaiian Children to culturally relevant reentry programs for Native Hawaiians who are released from prison.

The Three major studies - the 2010 OHA Report, the 2012 NHJTF Report, and the 2018 HCR 85 Task Force Report - have listed literally dozens of recommendations on ways to reduce the disparate treatment of Native Hawaiians in the criminal justice system.  The problem is that the recommendations have largely been ignored. 

We don't need more studies, we need action to implement the recommendations that have already been made in the three reports, and I will advocate for those recommendations.  My priorities with respect to the many recommendations are: 

  1. Implement unconscious bias training for the Honolulu Prosecutors and staff of the Honolulu Prosecutor's office.

  2. Target racial disparities by collecting accurate and current data at various points in the criminal legal system to determine where racial disparities occur and to what degree.

  3. Develop evidence-based early intervention strategies that are focused on diverting Native Hawaiian youth away from the criminal justice system and toward pathways for success.

  4. Expand culturally relevant in-prison programs for Native Hawaiians.

  5. Support the reentry of Native Hawaiians with culturally relevant programs.

  6. Implement other recommendations of the three major reports.

Watch and hear Jacquie Esser discuss here thoughts on the overrepresentation of Native Hawaiians in the prisons and jails here: City and County of Honolulu Prosecutor Debate: Kanaka Maoli in our Jails and Prisons

Jacquie Esser is Honolulu Prosecutor Candidate for this years City and County of Honolulu election. Jacquie will fight for equal justice for our overrepresented Native Hawaiian and Kanaka Maoli population. Native Hawaiians are overrepresented at every stage of the criminal justice system.  As Honolulu Prosecutor for the City and County of Honolulu, Jacquie Esser will work with Native Hawaiian leaders to reform the criminal justice system and the disparate treatment of Kanaka Maoli in that system. 

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Paid for by Esser for Justice P.O. Box 1484, Kailua, HI 96734