Most Oahu arrests involve those with drug addictions, mental illness

Most Oahu arrests involve those with drug addictions, mental illness
Published: Nov. 15, 2016 at 10:09 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 15, 2016 at 11:25 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Of the 16,000 arrests made on Oahu last year, 61 percent involved people who were severely mentally ill or abusing drugs, according to the Honolulu Police Department.

That's up over previous years.

In 2010, when numbers were collected differently, 26 percent of arrests fit that profile, said HPD Psychologist Michael Christopher.

And another startling statistic: 43 percent of detainees in HPD's central cell block last year were homeless. Of those, 72 percent had a serious mental illness or substance abuse problem.

Advocates say the figures underscore failures in the state's safety net for the homeless, mentally ill and those battling drug addiction.

"People are in our corrections system because they haven't had anywhere else to go," said Trisha Kajimura, executive director Mental Health America of Hawaii. "They haven't had the proper healthcare, including mental healthcare, or treatment for their illnesses or addictions."

Christopher said the 16,000 arrests is a total figure -- not a representation of how many people were arrested. He believes the same people with mental illness or drug addictions are being arrested multiple times.

State public defender Jack Tonaki says non-violent crimes like trespassing, petty theft and disorderly conduct have become a significant part of his case load and have bogged down the system.

"The prison population is going up and taxpayers are paying for that," he said.

For nearly a decade, HPD has sought to step up efforts to keep the mentally ill out of the criminal justice system. Last year, more than 3,200 people were diverted to service programs instead of jail.

But advocates say it's going to take more to make a lasting impact.

"What we need is more community treatment," Tonaki said. "Especially from the standpoint that many of these people can be treated with medication and lead productive lives."

Christopher noted that one reason behind the significant increase between 2010 and 2015 is a change in definitions. He also said the department has gotten better at collecting data.

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