60 percent?!

Heard something stunning on the radio yesterday (which, in itself, is very unusual indeed). It was one of those mid-day news briefs read by Wendy Osher (click here for my completely unrelated take on what I perceive to be Osher’s slippery ethics). And Osher was reading off headlines and news blurbs and then she came to one, which apparently came right off a press release, saying the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) had just donated $24,000 to Friends of Maui Drug Court (click here to read the Drug Court press release announcing the gift).

This is, of course, very good news. Maui Drug Court is a valuable organization that helps many drug addicts who would otherwise waste away in prison. But then, I presume to explain why OHA would give so much dough to the Drug Court, Osher said that (and this is also in the press release) that “approximately 60 percent of Drug Court clients are native Hawaiian.”
Wow. That is, given the fact that 2006 U.S. Census Bureau figures show native Hawaiians make up a mere 9.1 percent of those who live in the state of Hawaii, a shocking figure. And that was it–no follow-up or further elaboration from either Osher or the Drug Court press release on WHY native Hawaiians make up such a disproportionate percentage of Drug Court’s client base.
Two years ago, while I was still editor of Maui Time Weekly, I had Greg Mebel look at the issue as to why there were so many native Hawaiians in prison (you can read his story here). His story was good, but also–given the tiny budgets and severe time constraints we operated under–just scratched the surface (other stories, like this Honolulu Star-Bulletin piece from 2002, were far thinner).
Why there is such massive over-representation of native Hawaiians in our criminal justice system always struck me as the biggest under-reported story in the state. Now last year, there was state Senate bill SCR 156, which called for a study as to why there were so many native Hawaiians in prison. But according to the state Senate Majority Communications Office, the bill–while referred to the Judicial and Ways and Means committees–”wasn’t scheduled for a hearing.”
Might be a good time to revive the measure.
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2 thoughts on “60 percent?!

  1. I think one of the biggest weaknesses of Mebel’s article was that he didn’t talk to a lot of the people who have been working on this issue for the last two decades. Quite a bit has been written and talked about it by Hawaiian activists and scholars — yet only RaeDeen was interviewed.And to be quite honest, for those of us that have been aware of this issue since we were kids, it also seems offensive that the style implied that this is a secret or a shocker. That’s one of the areas that journalists, who are new to Hawai’i. would be better served by learning more about the histories of the different geographical and national and ethnic communities and relations.

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  2. True enough, and I already explained in my post why Mebel’s–and most stories in Maui Time under my editorship–were like that. But I think you’re forgetting a key point: Mebel’s story WAS a shocker because, even though this issue has been written about many times before, nothing has been done to correct it or even really address it at an official level. You seem to know a great deal about the issue. How about writing about it yourself, or at least giving us some links to coverage you think is superior.

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