Posted tagged ‘Criminal justice’

Prisoners jump the line

January 20, 2011

I don’t know what it is with Hawai‘i Democrats and their prisoners.

In 2006, Randall Iwase tried to wrest the governorship from Linda Lingle on a promise to create a “prison industry” — an issue that landed with one of the all-time great thuds.

Now comes Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who before he has done a thing to keep his campaign promises to straighten out the deficit-ridden state budget and stimulate the economy, is making a priority of bringing home the 1,900 Hawai‘i felons serving their time in mainland prisons.

There’s nothing wrong with striving to improve conditions for prisoners, but in what sane universe do they jump to the front of the line in a crushing recession — ahead of law-abiding working families and needy children, seniors and sick people who have lost their safety net?

The prisoners were first sent to the mainland by the last Democratic governor, Ben Cayetano, because local prisons were overcrowded and no Hawai‘i community would host new facilities.

It was no small side benefit in Cayetano’s recession and the current one that it costs half as much to house a prisoner on the mainland as in Hawai‘i.

The latest call to bring the prisoners home was spurred by a lawsuit alleging inmate abuse in an Arizona facility. Ironically, it came out around the same time as news footage broke showing Hawai‘i prison guards giving a prisoner an extended beating and kicking him in the head while he was on the ground.

The Abercrombie administration proposes to get around the overcrowding problem in local prisons by turning up to 1,000 inmates loose into community-based reentry programs. The problem is that few such programs exist and would have to be funded and built out.

Many Hawai‘i inmates are doing fine in mainland prisons — some have said they prefer it because of better rehabilitation opportunities — and it’s the wrong time to be devoting more state resources to their incarceration when there are far more pressing needs.

The new administration needs to learn that having too many priorities is the same as having no priorities at all.


Where’s the justice for Peter Boy?

December 27, 2010

I didn’t want to let the year end without directing attention to a couple of excellent stories in the Hawaii Tribune-Herald (here and here) about the unresolved disappearance on the Big Island nearly 13 years ago of 6-year-old Peter Kema Jr.

Peter Boy’s father, Peter Kema Sr., told police that on a trip to O‘ahu he gave his son to a woman whose whereabouts he couldn’t provide and whose existence police couldn’t verify.

Police and prosecutors believe Peter Boy was murdered and that they know who did it, as do the the child’s grandparents and siblings, who provided evidence of tragic abuse during the boy’s short life.

State social workers verified the abuse and have been harshly criticized for leaving Peter Boy with his parents despite clear signs that the family was seriously dysfunctional.

The case was reclassified from a missing person to a homicide a decade ago, but Big Island law enforcers have stumbled over each other pointing fingers and no charges have been brought. At this point point, police say the case isn’t cold, but prosecutors say they don’t consider it an ongoing investigation.

It’s simply unacceptable to continue bumbling about while Peter Boy is denied justice and his siblings, who were long ago removed from their parents, have no closure. You don’t get to “lose” a child under highly suspicious circumstances and not have to account for it.

Big Island prosecutors are notoriously skittish about bringing charges on high-profile crimes unless they feel they have an airtight case. If they’re not doing anything further to develop this case, it’s time to present the best case they have and let a jury decide.

It should be remembered that in the Dana Ireland murder case in the 1990s, Big Island prosecutors similarly dragged their okole for years in bringing charges.

When the family and community finally prevailed on them to file with the “weak” evidence they had, they got convictions.

If Big Island prosecutors are going to continue to be complicit in burying Peter Boy, perhaps it’s time for the state attorney general or U.S. Attorney to see if there’s a way in for them to bring justice to this little boy with the big smile that belied the harsh hand he was dealt.

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