Report: Native Hawaiians imprisoned more often

Honolulu, Hawaii (AP) October 2010

Native Hawaiians are imprisoned more often and serve longer sentences than people of other racial or ethnic groups in Hawaii, according to a new report by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

While Native Hawaiians make up about 24 percent of the state’s overall population, they accounted for 39 percent of the population in prisons and jails in 2009, said the report titled “The Disparate Treatment of Native Hawaiians in the Criminal Justice System.”

The report, released last week, shows that Native Hawaiians are imprisoned for drug offenses more frequently, they’re more likely to get a prison sentence after being found guilty and they receive longer sentences.

“This crucial research shows the need to address the unfair treatment of Native Hawaiians in our state’s criminal justice system,” OHA Chief Executive Officer Clyde Namuo said in a statement. “We are more likely to be sent to prison, and for longer periods of time, than nearly every other racial or ethnic community in Hawaii.”

Native Hawaiians are sentenced to 119 more days in prison than Tongans, 73 more days than Native Americans, 68 more days than Hispanics and 11 more days than whites on average, after controlling for severity of the charge, age at arrest and gender, the report said.

Hawaiians also are sentenced to longer probation terms and make up the highest percentage of people incarcerated by the state in private prisons on the mainland.

Hawaii’s indigenous people made up the largest portion, at 32 percent, of people admitted to prison for drug offenses in 2009, although their drug usage isn’t much different from other races or ethnicities, the report said.

“These numbers have more to do with their socioeconomic circumstances than their race,” former judge and Chaminade University criminal justice professor Ron Becker told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “As a judge, it’s difficult to put on probation someone who has no permanent residence, no permanent employment, no continuing relationships with anyone in the community.”

The report suggests reforms to reduce racial disparities, fund community-based alternatives to incarceration and help Hawaiians reintegrate into the community following incarceration.

OHA will ask the Legislature to study the disparities and improve the justice system, Namuo said.

The study, funded by a $181,440 legislative appropriation, was conducted by OHA with assistance from the University of Hawaii, the Justice Policy Institute and Georgetown University.