Tuesday, January 20, 1998

Prison overcrowding is still key concern

ANY notion that Hawaii's prisons are overcrowded because of a disproportionate number of inmates compared to the state's population should be dispelled by new figures from the Justice Department. While the state's prison population is increasing at nearly five times the national rate, Hawaii's incarceration rate remains far below the mainland average. Since it is likely to keep growing, however, the figures provide convincing evidence that short-term remedies will only prolong the problem of prison overcrowding.

Hawaii began the new year with 4,087 inmates in its eight correctional facilities and an additional 600 in three Texas institutions. Correction officials plan to send another 600 later this year to other mainland prisons. The number of Hawaii inmates - including those at mainland facilities - rose by 480 in the past 18 months and is expected to reach 5,000 by next year. That's fast approaching twice the present prison capacity of 2,912, which includes double-bunking.

Construction projects approved for this year will expand the prison capacity to 3,500, still below the present number of inmates. Corrections officials rightly project that an additional 2,000-bed medium-security prison is needed to keep pace with the growth. Governor Cayetano has proposed such a facility, and the Legislature should approve its construction in Hawaii, not on the mainland.

The 21.6 percent prison population growth over the past year has resulted in an incarceration rate of 258 inmates per 100,000 people, compared with a national rate of 436 per 100,000. Even considering that the national rate includes federal inmates - there is no federal prison in the islands - Hawaii's rate remains well below the national rate.

The increased prison population followed public calls for a tougher stance against crime, resulting in longer sentences and a greater reluctance to parole convicts. City Prosecutor Peter Carlisle and his predecessor, now state Public Safety Director Keith Kaneshiro, believe the locking up of more criminals has contributed to the 14 percent reduction in crime last year.

The reduced crime level is welcome, but legislators must be aware that it comes at a cost. Failure to provide accommodations for Hawaii's growing prison population would invite further complaints about overcrowding, leading to premature court-ordered releases of prisoners, federal sanctions and, if Carlisle and Kaneshiro are right, increased crime.

Three leaders

OVER the past week, Hawaii lost three outstanding citizens, each of whom led a full life while contributing greatly to his respective field and the general community. The state mourns the passing of housing developer Tom Gentry, former Maui Mayor Hannibal Tavares and Monsignor Charles Kekumano.

Gentry, 67, developed more than 8,000 homes in Hawaii over the past 29 years, including the well-planned Ewa by Gentry and Waipio by Gentry. He was also the mastermind behind more than 2 million square feet of retail, office and industrial facilities, including the Gentry Business Park in Waipio and the Gentry Pacific Design Center on Nimitz Highway. Outside the office, the CEO and chief shareholder of the Gentry Companies was a world champion powerboat racer. On Nov. 13, 1994, his high-speed, 40-foot craft flipped over during the Offshore Championships at Key West, Fla., leaving him comatose. Gentry, who never regained consciousness, died last Thursday. "My dad was the original 'self-made man,' " said Gentry's oldest son, Norman. "He loved the pulse of business and the intensity of competition."

Mayor Tavares was a big man who accomplished big things in his 78 years of life, much of it in public service. He was a police captain, teacher, businessman and lobbyist, before culminating his political career by winning a special election in October 1979 to complete the term of Elmer Cravalho. Tavares served longer than any other Maui mayor - from 1979 to 1991. After leaving office, he was named chairman of the Kahoolawe Conveyance Commission, which prepared the recommendation that led Congress to return the island to the state. On Sunday, when Maui hosted the Hooters Hula Bowl, Mayor Linda Lingle noted the event was tinged with sadness because Tavares, who died after a lengthy heart-related illness on Saturday night at Maui Memorial Hospital, had loved the Valley Isle and Mauians had loved him.

Kekumano, 78, the first Roman Catholic priest of Hawaiian ancestry and former chancellor of the Honolulu Diocese, was much in demand as a speaker. He held some of the most important civic positions in Hawaii. He was chairman of the board of the Liliuokalani Trust and had served on the Honolulu Police Commission, the UH Board of Regents and the board of the Aloha United Way. But his most recent claim to fame was as one of five co-authors of the "Broken Trust" essay, published in the Star-Bulletin. The Aug. 9 commentary sparked investigations by the state attorney general into the performance of the five trustees of the Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate. It also led to the decision by four of the five Hawaii Supreme Court justices to decline to appoint future KS/BE trustees, a practice that had been followed for a century. Kekumano, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer last year, died peacefully Monday morning at St. Francis Hospice in Nuuanu.

If the meaning of life is to make the world a better place before one leaves it, Gentry, Tavares and Kekumano accomplished their missions. Their contributions will long be remembered, and their vibrant personalities will be missed.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Info] [Letter to Editor] [Stylebook] [Feedback]

© 1998 Honolulu Star-Bulletin