Saturday, February 27, 1999

Prison suicide rash
demands investigation

THE apparent suicide of a fourth state prison inmate since January has raised concern that something is very wrong with the prison system. It's a warning signal that must not be ignored.

The fourth inmate, Michael Espindola, was found Wednesday hanging from a bedsheet tied to his bunk at the Halawa Correctional Facility. Prominent entertainer Bryant "Mackey" Feary Jr. committed suicide last Saturday at Halawa. Earlier, Farrington Governor Santos and Dale Wester killed themselves, Santos at the Oahu Community Correctional Center and Wester at the Maui center.

Acting Public Safety Director Ted Sakai said that, as far as he could tell, the deaths were not related, but "we are looking at everything to see what is going on... We're just going to do everything we can." He added, however, "If anyone makes a decision to kill himself, it's hard to stop him."

Civil rights attorney Dan Foley called for an investigation, saying the situation was unprecedented in the state prison system. Foley said inmates should be thoroughly screened for mental problems that could make them suicide risks.

Avery Chumbley, co-chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, agreed, saying it was alarming that there have been so many suicides in such a short period of time. Chumbley asked whether inmates are getting enough treatment for psychological problems.

Our guess is probably not. But whether the state is willing to fund an expanded program of treatment is questionable in view of the tight budgetary situation.

The public favors putting criminals in prison, and keeping them there as long as possible. But the hard fact is that putting people in prison gives the state responsibility for their welfare while they are incarcerated -- including preventing them from killing themselves. The challenge is to accomplish that in the face of a host of conflicting financial demands.


World-class auto race

HAWAII has attracted sports-minded visitors in a variety of ways -- football bowl games, marathons and triathlons, surfing, billfish tournaments, yacht races. Now add auto racing.

Hawaii seems like an unlikely venue for a world-class auto race, but we're getting one. It's called the Hawaiian Super Prix and it is scheduled to be held at Barbers Point in November. The $5 million first prize is the richest in the history of auto racing and should attract some of the world's best drivers.

The announcement must have been especially welcome for former Gov. John Waihee, an auto racing enthusiast.

The point of choosing Barbers Point is that the runways and tarmac of the naval air station -- soon to be closed -- will be available. Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) has signed a three-year agreement for the event with the state, which will take over the facility from the Navy.

If it comes off as planned, the race should bring to Hawaii thousands of racing fans, who will contribute to the economy, and will be televised on a pay-per-view basis, which will give Hawaii more exposure as a tourist destination.

It looks like a huge plus for Hawaii -- with the exception of Leeward Oahu residents who might get caught in traffic jams generated by the event.


Levi goes overseas

THE decision of Levi Strauss & Co., one of the world's largest clothing manufacturers, to shift much of its operations out of North America is a major setback for the U.S. apparel industry, which has been shrinking for a number of years. San Francisco-based Levi plans to close half of its 22 plants and lay off 5,900 workers -- 30 percent of the company's work force in the United States and Canada.

The company has been experiencing a sharp decline in sales of its famous Levi's jeans. Levi's share of the U.S. jeans market is still a healthy 25 percent, but only half what it was in 1990, the result of the company's failure to move quickly to new styles in favor with younger consumers.

But Levi is hardly giving up. It will open new plants, probably in South America and the Caribbean, to take advantage of lower labor costs.

Levi once prided itself on maintaining a large domestic work force, but it is now being forced to follow its competitors overseas. A company spokesman said, "We've held on as long as possible in North America, but it's clear now that given market trends we need to be more competitive and reduce our manufacturing costs."

The decision accelerates a trend that began more than a quarter of a century ago of taking apparel manufacturing to foreign countries with lower labor costs.

In recent years the trend has inspired a movement attempting to hold major companies accountable for dangerous and unhealthy working conditions and low wages in plants operated overseas by their subcontractors.

Although some progress has been made, there will always be a large gap between wages and working conditions in the United States and in the poor countries where much of the apparel manufacturing is now being done.

The movement to overseas manufacturing is a trend that shows every indication of continuing. Americans will buy more and more foreign-made clothing while selling products of higher levels of technological sophistication in exchange.

The countries that produce the clothing will benefit economically. And in time that should help to relieve their people's poverty.

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

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