Study: Native Hawaiians treated differently by justice system

Sep 28, 2010 5:05 PM

Clyde Namuo Clyde Namuo
Richard Naiwieha Wurdeman Richard Naiwieha Wurdeman
Yuklin Aluli Yuklin Aluli

Are Native Hawaiians getting a fair shake in our legal system? New numbers show that 40% of all prisoners in Hawaii are Native Hawaiians, and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) says that’s no coincidence.

A blind-folded lady is the symbol of justice in the US, but OHA says a study by a non-profit group shows that justice is not blind towards Native Hawaiians.

Daniel Kahanaoi was locked up for life plus 20 years for shooting a Honolulu attorney to death last year. The judge gave Kahanaoi the stiffer punishment for “utter lack of remorse.”

But, a new study by the justice policy institute in Washington DC suggests that Native Hawaiians are more likely to be sent to prison and for longer periods of time than other ethnic communities.

“For example a Japanese person is sentenced to 14 fewer days of probation and whites to nearly 21 fewer days than Native Hawaiians” said OHA Executive Director Clyde Namuo.

The study also found that Native Hawaiians don’t use drugs more than other races, but go to prison more for drug offenses. Richard Naiwieha Wurdeman says he’s seen it during his 17 years representing Native Hawaiian defendants.

“Our society can’t stand for such disparate treatment” said Wurdeman.

According to the report, half of people serving prison terms in Hawaii are housed in mainland facilities. Statistics show broken families, isolated by incarceration, often perpetuate the cycle. In Hawaii, 50 percent of youth in juvenile facilities are Native Hawaiian.

“The result of institutional racism is what we’re having in our juvenile criminal system” said attorney Yuklin Aluli.

The number of Native Hawaiians in the women’s correctional facility jumps to as high as 85%. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs says this study is a starting point to look at what it considers unfair treatment of Native Hawaiians in the justice system.

“While this study brings to light facts that some may not want to talk about, the board of trustees has taken this serious step forward to address concerns of incarceration and disparate treatment of Native Hawaiians” said OHA Chair Haunani Apoliona.