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Friday, March 31, 2000

Too scared
to go to school

One in five Hawaii
seventh-graders say gangs
make education a fright

By Lori Tighe


One out of five seventh-graders in Hawaii are sometimes afraid to go to school because of gangs, according to a report based on a survey at four schools by the state Office of Youth Services.

"Gangs haven't gone away. We do need to continue to worry about them. We can't become complacent about this problem," said Meda Chesney-Lind, University of Hawaii criminologist and lead investigator of the report released to the Legislature yesterday.

The new millennium began with a murder and critical injury as rival gangs clashed in Kapalama on New Year's Eve. Richard Tambua, 22, died in the fight, and another man, 24, was shot in the stomach. An 18-year-old Kalihi man turned himself in to police for the shooting.

In February, teachers at Campbell High School were hit with chairs thrown by students in a gang-style fight. Several students suffered injuries in the scuffle that began between two students "looking at each other," said school principal Louis Vierra.

The study interviewed seventh graders at Kailua, Moanalua, Waipahu and Washington intermediate schools about gangs. On average, one student out of five said they knew someone in gangs, and one out of five said they sometimes felt scared to go to school.

More Washington Intermediate students, 39 percent, said they were sometimes scared to go to school. By contrast, only 8 percent of Kailua Intermediate students said they feared attending school.

In March, the Department of Education and the Honolulu Police Department unveiled a three-year pilot program to establish school safety managers at 23 Oahu schools.

Students interviewed in the report, "2000 Youth Gang Response System Interim Report to the Legislature," said security guards helped.

Some seventh-graders were quoted as saying, "I (am) not scared to go to school because I know that I'm safe with the teachers and security guards in the school," and "because we have security and I know where not to go."

Hawaiian teens continue to over-represent youths in jail, according to the report's other significant findings.

Hawaiians make up 31 percent of the state's youth population, yet they make up 52 percent of jailed boys and 63 percent of jailed girls.

The judicial system treats Hawaiian youths more harshly than Caucasian youths, according to a study done by John McDonald, criminology professor at University of South Carolina.

"The state needs to take a look at the over-representation and develop an action plan to address this," Chesney-Lind said.

However, the big picture in Hawaii youth crime is encouraging, especially compared to the rest of the nation, the report stated.

While mainland youth arrests jumped 23.5 percent during the past decade, Hawaii juvenile arrests dropped 9.9 percent.

Violent crime arrests were low, making up just 2 percent of all juvenile arrests in Hawaii. But despite the small percentage, violent youth arrests have increased during the decade by 44 percent.

But the most recent statistics reveal that the violent trend is turning. Violent crime arrests among Hawaii juveniles plunged 23.3 percent from 1997 to 1998.

"This overall decrease in juvenile crime arrests is an indicator that prevention and intervention efforts are having critical effects on Hawaii's at-risk youth population and deserve continued support," the report said.

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