Inmates' insight on study: Is Justice system unfair to Native Hawaiians?

Wendy Akau
Wendy Akau
Christie Hosino
Christie Hosino
Charmaine Heanu
Charmaine Heanu
Clyde Namuo
Clyde Namuo

By Mari-Ela David - bio | email

KAILUA (HawaiiNewsNow) - Inmates are reacting to a question raised by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) on whether our justice system is unfair to Native Hawaiians.

OHA released findings of the study on Tuesday.

The study suggests that Native Hawaiians are more likely to be locked up, and given longer sentences than other ethnic communities.

Inmates that Hawaii News Now spoke with say it's true.

"Identity theft," said Wendy Akau, when asked what crime she committed.

"For drugs, I committed a lot of thefts," said Christie Hosino.

"I was a drug addict," said Charmaine Heanu.

Akau, Hosino, and Heanu are Native Hawaiian inmates at the Women's Community Correctional Center (WCCC) in Kailua.

None of their crimes was violent, but they say they've been sentenced as if they've killed someone.

"When I went to Kentucky, there was a woman that I met there and she worked in the kitchen, she was there on second degree murder with a six year sentence," said Akau.

That's the same sentence Akau is serving for identity theft.

"I sold ice. I was actually looking for a hit and saw this person who gave me drugs to sell it to another person, who was {an undercover} cop," said Heanu, who was sentenced to 10 years.

"What is the difference from me to a person who, drunk driving, kills somebody and they get 18 months? I mean 18 months!" asked Heanu.

Case in point: Tyler Duarte is a convicted drunk driver, who killed, not one, but two people in 2007.

His punishment was probation and 18 months behind bars.

"A lot of us women here who are incarcerated, a majority of us are of Hawaiian ancestry and a lot of the crimes we commit based to the crimes other races commit, the time is way, way much higher for us," said Hosino.

The claims of institutional racism are nothing new.

But now they're supported by a new study, by the Justice Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., commissioned by OHA.

"For example, a Japanese person is sentenced to 14 fewer days of probation and whites to nearly 21 fewer days than Native Hawaiians," said Clyde Namuo, Executive Director of OHA.

OHA has launched an investigation.

Meanwhile, inmates are left with 'what ifs'.

For Heanu, a shorter sentence could've meant time with her daughter, Tatiana Beasley, the Roosevelt High School All-Star basketball player killed in a crash last year.

"I would've been there for her graduation. If I would've been there, she might've still been alive. And then I have a son, and he's graduating this year, and I won't be there, so two of them I missed," said Heanu.

Native Hawaiians make up to 85% of inmates at WCCC.

The State Judiciary has said, they don't get to pick who they convict, but that the Judiciary looks forward to reviewing the report, and will respond as necessary and appropriate.

Copyright 2010 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.