Friday, June 28, 2002

OHA logo

OHA seeks prison
for Hawaiians

The proposed facility would help
nonviolent inmates get treatment

By Pat Omandam

Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustees want to build and operate a transitional drug and alcohol treatment facility for nonviolent Hawaiian inmates who have less than a year remaining on their prison terms.

"We are the only organization that has the right to take care of only the Hawaiians," said trustee Linda Dela Cruz, chairwoman of OHA's Program Management Committee.

"This is actually an experimental project. If it works, then we can take care of everybody else. But we will start with our own Hawaiians because we are Hawaiians and this is a Hawaiian entity," she said yesterday.

The idea is among the recommendations in a staff report to the committee on how the agency can help native Hawaiian inmates.

The state Department of Public Safety said that in 2000, Hawaiians made up 39 percent of Hawaii's adult male inmate population and 44 percent of the adult female inmate population. OHA officials believe the percentages are higher because Hawaiian ethnicity is self-reported by inmates.

Hawaiians in 2000 also made up 46 percent of the population at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility, the state said.

Healani Sonoda, OHA cultural-education programs specialist and the report's author, said there is a great disparity between the percentage of Hawaiians in prison and the 22 percent of Hawaiians that make up the general population.

"This overrepresentation of native Hawaiians in correctional facilities stems from socioeconomic, health, political and education problems that many native Hawaiians face every day," Sonoda said.

"The large number of native Hawaiians locked up is an indicator of inequalities native Hawaiians face in their own homeland."

Sonoda said the lack of alternative inmate rehabilitation programs in Hawaii has lead to prison overcrowding. Recent state legislation that mandates drug treatment for first-time convicted offenders is a step in the right direction, she said.

OHA's proposed Paahao ("one who is bound") Community Center may be modeled after residential drug and alcohol treatment programs like Habilitat or the Salvation Army's Women's Way in Manoa. The transitional center would allow inmates with six to nine months left on their sentence to re-integrate into families and communities as they develop support systems needed for success outside of prison life.

First-year construction and operating costs to OHA for such a facility could range between $2.5 million and $2.9 million for a 35-bed facility, and $4.2 million and $5.3 million for a 100-bed facility.

Dela Cruz has sent the OHA report to Kamehameha Schools and the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands in hopes they will provide free land for the center near the sea or in the mountains, where Hawaiians have strong cultural connections.

While Dela Cruz wants the facility on the Big Island, trustee Charles Ota suggested the vacant bachelor's quarters buildings at Kalaeloa, the former Barbers Point Naval Air Station.

Meanwhile, trustee John D. Waihee IV cautioned OHA also should do what it can now to help native inmates. "Every other month, I get some letter from a prisoner complaining about how they're abused in prison ... or how they're denied their rights to practice native traditions and such," Waihee said.

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