Study finds residents
see power imbalance

Star-Bulletin staff

The average Hawaii resident doesn't feel any connection with government and believes there's a power imbalance between ordinary people and "insiders."

These were among findings in a study of "Issues of Justice in Hawaii" prepared for the Hawaii Justice Foundation and released last week.

"We learned that many people feel they are not part of the decision-making process in Hawaii," said Michael Broderick, president of the foundation's board of directors.

He said they want a stronger connection with government and business leaders and feel businesses, particularly, need to become more knowledgeable about local communities.

"Many people also believe that underprivileged groups in Hawaii do not receive their fair share of public resources."

Ten issues were cited in surveys of Oahu residents and community leaders conducted by Ward Research in May and June.

Among top issues, they said Hawaii's business leaders need to be educated about local community problems, low and moderate income residents lack access to legal services and resources are distributed unequally, based on location and ethnic background.

Also cited were the homeless problem, native Hawaiian issues (such as sovereignty for Hawaiians and ceded lands), discrimination against underprivileged groups in providing state services (such as education, legal, child protective and health care) and low government participation, exemplified by low voter turnout.

Treating drug offenders versus imprisonment and diverting natural resources (fresh water) from farming communities in favor of big business interests were other issues.

Broderick said the study was conducted "to take a pulse of the community and get a handle on what people are struggling with every day.

"We wanted feedback on issues of justice and, just as importantly, hear about where believe injustice exists and how the Hawaii Justice Foundation can help."

The 10 issues were presented in a statewide telephone survey May 11-23 of 505 residents, with oversampling in Waianae, Waimanalo and Kalihi because of large numbers of minority populations.

"While no single justice issue stood out as paramount," the researchers said, "access to public and private resources and the disconnection of citizens from government emerged as key themes of the research."

More residents cited corruption among government leaders than any other issue when asked what comes to mind when they think of justice issues in Hawaii, the study found.

"Surprisingly," the foundation said, "in Waimanalo and Waianae -- communities with high proportions of native Hawaiians -- native Hawaiian issues were overshadowed in importance by issues like the treatment of drug offenders, homelessness and the diversion of natural resources away from local communities."

Broderick said the foundation wants to partner with other organizations to help connect residents and communities with public institutions and teach communities how to make their voices heard.

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