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.