Ka Wai Ola


1. nvi. Prisoner, convict; to be imprisoned. Hale pa‘ahao, prison, jail. ho‘o.pa‘a.hao To make a prisoner. Ho‘opa‘ahao pono ‘ole, false imprisonment

Photo: Sylvia Hussey

Aloha mai kākou,

Our lāhui has an often invisible population: our pa‘ahao, our incarcerated. Thousands are locked up, many of them out of state; and while some may not want to acknowledge the faceless, invisible population, we see our pa‘ahao, our fellow Kanaka faces, for they are our husbands, brothers, uncles, cousins, aunties, even kupuna. Ka Wai Ola is one of the few communication vehicles to reach our incarcerated community. Our current, modern situation needs to be contextualized, which historian Ron Williams does in this issue. And we’ll also be sharing about the work that OHA is doing in the prisons to strengthen identity, cultural practice and futures.

In 2010, OHA released a breakthrough report on Hawaiians in the criminal justice system. For background, these are key points from the executive summary.

  • Since 1977, the number of people incarcerated in Hawai‘i has increased more than 900 percent.
  • The disproportionate impact of the criminal justice system on Native Hawaiians accumulates at each stage.
  • Native Hawaiians make up 24 percent of the general population of Hawai‘i, but 27 percent of all arrests, 33 percent of people in pretrial detention, 29 percent of people sentenced to probation, 36 percent admitted to prison in 2009, 39 percent of the incarcerated population, 39 percent of releases on parole, and 41 percent of parole revocations.
  • Given a determination of guilt, Native Hawaiians are more likely to get a prison sentence than all other groups.
  • Importantly, the other major group of defendants after Native Hawaiians, Whites, are only about 67 percent (0.674), or two-thirds, as likely as Native Hawaiians to be incarcerated if judged guilty.
  • Native Hawaiians receive longer prison sentences than most other racial or ethnic groups.
  • Native Hawaiians are sentenced to longer probation terms than most other racial or ethnic groups.
  • Native Hawaiians make up the highest percentage of people incarcerated in out-of-state facilities
  • Hawai‘i has the largest proportion of its population of women in prison, with Native Hawaiian women comprising a disproportionate number of women in the prison.
  • Native Hawaiians bear a disproportionate burden of punitive responses to drug use.
  • Native Hawaiians do not use drugs at drastically different rates from other races or ethnicities, but go to prison for drug offenses more often than people of other races or ethnicities.
  • Native Hawaiians are charged with the majority of offenses related to methamphetamine, but report using this drug at only slightly higher rates than people of other races or ethnicities.

Sylvia Hussey, Ed.D.
Ka Pouhana Kūikawā / Interim Chief Executive Officer