Providing Native Hawaiians already incarcerated with the tools and skills needed to succeed is just one of many ways to address concerns about the over-representation of Native Hawaiians in the criminal justice system, one resident told a state task force Saturday in Kailua-Kona.
Having men and women spend time incarcerated and not learning skills, whether it be a trade or basic life skills like reading, writing and, even, gardening, is not helping solve the Office of Hawaiian Affairs-documented disparate treatment of Native Hawaiians in the criminal justice system, Gus Costa told members of the 2012 Native Hawaiian Justice Task Force.
Providing education and training is one thing that can be done today to help address the issue, he said, also noting the importance of improving schools, family dynamics and Native Hawaiians’ ability to own property.
“Here’s an opportunity for people with nothing to do that could learn how to read, write, add – whatever,” said Costa, a carpenter by trade. “These kids need something to do so that they come out with a skill and given a job.
“The only reason that I am here today is because I learned skills in jail.”
Costa was just one of about 20 people who took part in a half-day public meeting held by the Native Hawaiian Justice Task Force to gather community input on concerns covered in a 2010 Office of Hawaiian Affairs report titled: “The Disparate Treatment of Native Hawaiians in the Criminal Justice System.”
According to the report, which was written at the request of the 2009 state Legislature, Native Hawaiians make up 24 percent of the general population of Hawaii, however, as of 2009, the group made up 39 percent of the incarcerated population. The report also found Native Hawaiians more likely to receive prison sentences, longer terms of incarceration and probation, and parole revocation, among other concerns.
Four representatives of the nine-member task force, which was convened by the 2011 state Legislature to identify and support solutions to address the concerns outlined in the report, were present in Kona.
Others who provided testimony during the meeting touched on education, sovereignty, bringing inmates back to the islands, creating a sanctuary, mandatory sentencing and creating a forgiveness system. Some attendees just listened and some provided personal stories.
Support programs like the Family Support Hawaii-West Hawaii Fatherhood Initiative are also important to addressing some of the issues outlined in the report, said Kauila Ho, one of the program’s father coaches. Funding such support programs, few of which qualify for grants since they are aimed at men only, helps create stable families, which in turn supports getting a life back together, he said.
“A lot of times we forget about the father, but the father is the other half of the formula,” Ho said about the importance of focusing on men, not only women and children, as part of the solution. “If they understand their role as fathers, even when incarcerated, they will come out and support themselves and their families.”
Task force member and OHA Chief Executive Officer Kamanaopono Crabbe said the group will complete a draft report between September and November and a final report by December to submit to the state Legislature and governor. The final report will include input from participants of a two-day June summit in Honolulu, as well as from community meetings planned around the state.
East Hawaii residents can provide input from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at the state Department of Education Annex located at 450 Waianuenue Ave. in Hilo.
For more information, or to view the OHA report, visit oha.org.