Category Archives: Crime

Looking back at the roots of Hawaii’s prison crisis

My Civil Beat column this week tries to explain the modern history of Hawaii’s prison system, which began in the 1960s and 1970s as a plan to create a modern and humane way to deal with crime (“Ian Lind: Falling Short Again On Prisons“).

It’s a sad story of bureaucratic inertia, administrative infighting, and political opportunism destroying what was seen at the time as a remarkably innovative plan to recreate and modernize the state’s prison system.

I’ve gotten just one comment so far on the column, an email from an old friend who has spent his life dealing with prison issues. Russ Immarigeon wrote:

I just read your recent column about prison-building plans in Hawaii. What a terrific column! Man, it’s so rare to hear someone with such a fine sense of the history of failure of prison-building proposals. Not only that, I think you hit the target on why past plans failed and future plans are likely to fail.

Here are the first few paragraphs of the Civil Beat column.

Forty years ago, Hawaii tried to re-envision and reform the state’s old and obsolete prison system. The aim: to create a prison system second to none.

The magazine of the American Correctional Association, an organization of prison professionals, reported that Hawaii’s new prisons were expected to be “the most modern, the most humane and the most sophisticated anywhere.”

But even as the new buildings were going up, the widely hailed vision was being undermined by bureaucratic inertia and infighting, and by the Legislature’s failure to fund key parts of the system.

And with a surge in crime brought about, in part, by the unprecedented size of the the baby boom generation, we saw the arrival of a new political era that leveraged the fear of crime into a potent campaign issue, first nationally and then locally.

Instead of leading the nation, Hawaii’s new prison system was overcrowded on the day it opened. The state has spent much of the past several decades struggling with chronic overcrowding and administrative woes, continuing allegations of civil rights violations, lawsuits, and repeated periods of direct federal supervision of several of its facilities.

In the process, the explosive growth of the prison population has become a huge drain on the state’s budget, pulling money away from desperate needs in education, health care, family services, and on and on.

This history is rather depressing.

But the current reality is even more depressing.

The prisons have become a sacred cow. The public knows little about what goes on in them because they have become closed institutions and because most of us don’t want to know.

We’ve lost the understanding that these aren’t simply “criminals”, but are sons, brothers, uncles, and friends who have gotten into trouble and need a way out.

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, there was more community concern about what went on in our prisons and jails. There were community groups with considerable social and political clout that were actively involved in prison issues. Things didn’t go totally unnoticed.

Today it seems quite different. The prison and jails are far more isolated from daily life of the rest of the public. Weak administration allows chronic conditions to continue (poor health care for prisoners, excessive overtime and favoritism among guards, inability to staff family visits, etc, etc).

And now, with preciously little attention to the deeper issues, Governor Ige is pressing for approval to commit half a billion dollars to moving the Oahu Correctional Center so that developers can access the current site in Kalihi, and other private interests can profit on constructing a new facility. All with little, if any, public discussion of why we’re doing this and, far more importantly, where this is taking us.

I hope that some of you have access to CB and can check out the column.

Visitors still being arrested for enjoying moonlight on Waikiki Beach

Back on May 30, 2015, I commented on the stupidity of arresting tourists for being on Waikiki Beach at night (“Here we go again with the unintended consequences“).

That post, in turn, quoted from a Hawaii News Now story:

The city’s crackdown on homelessness in Waikiki — meant to make things nicer for tourists, is causing some visitors big legal problems.

In order to keep the homeless from settling in overnight, the city began closing popular beachfront parks in Waikiki at midnight. A violation brings a criminal citation.

According to the City Prosecutors Office 20 percent of those citations, one in five, is going to visitors, for whom the criminal charge and its mandatory court appearance can be more than just an inconvenience.

Apparently the arrests of tourists trying to enjoy the beach they have paid so much to vacation on, the same beach that our visitor industry packages and sells with such effectiveness, have not ended.

I received an email this week from a woman who vacationed here in December. I think she and her husband are from Canada.

I came across an article you wrote on May 30th about Tourists being slammed with criminal accusations for sitting in certain sections of the beach in Waikiki. On December 15th, my husband and I became 2 of those Tourists.

Not only is this of the most insulting nature, it sounds like it will make us criminals. We cannot attend our court date, as we had to return to Canada. To work. And feed our 3 children.

I was curious to see if, as a Resident of Hawai, you had heard more on the subject and whether there may be a class-action lawsuit going on. It sounds like we are far from the only ones who got trapped in this net. The legal fees will set us back quite a bit to *try* and get the charges dropped.

I was wondering also if you may have resources for us to refer to. I have been unable to reach anyone at the court house to rearrange our court date.

This is beyond silly!

I can’t agree more.

Is there a terrible threat to public order when visitors stroll out of their hotels into the moonlight to enjoy a balmy evening on Waikiki Beach!

Of course not.

As far as I know, the city’s policy remains unchanged, and the various visitor industry associations haven’t provided a “fix” so that tourists can avoid suddenly having criminal records. Their crime: Enjoying their Hawaii vacations!

So I don’t have anything encouraging to report back to this couple.

What should I tell them?

Mayor advises police chief to address federal probe

Hawaii News Now last night featured excerpts of an interview with Mayor Kirk Caldwell, in which Caldwell said he advised Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha to be more candid with the public about an ongoing federal investigation of possible abuse of power by the chief (“Mayor says police chief needs to be more transparent about investigation“).

The mayor’s comments were apparently recorded during an interview on one of the station’s morning shows.

Last year, the chief told HNN in an exclusive interview, that he did nothing wrong. Since then, he has refused to comment. The mayor says that is a mistake.

“I’ve actually told the chief, perception becomes reality,” Caldwell said. “I’ve encouraged him from time to time to step out and say more. That’s about as much as I can do as mayor.”

The station reported back in October that a federal investigative grand jury was expected to begin consider evidence in the case soon.

I wonder whether the mayor was surprised by this question about the chief, or whether it was planned in advance. That would make a difference in trying to assess what the mayor’s comments mean for the inside city hall politics as this case goes forward.

Kahala crime mapping

When we were last burglarized while living in Kaaawa, I signed up to get reports on nearby crimes from

You can search for a city, a zip code, or just use a street address and request to be notified about crimes within 1 or 2 miles.

Those reports allowed me to track when there were mini crime waves, usually an increase in small thefts or car break-ins.

I haven’t gotten back in the habit if checking crimes since we moved into town. But when I got an alert this morning, I thought I would check the situation in and around Kahala.

The results were surprising, at least to me.

I assumed that Kahala would probably have a relatively high incidence of property crimes. There’s lots of property around here, and I thought crime would be proportionally higher. You know, the old adage, “Q: Why do you rob banks? A: That’s where the money is.

But the crime map for the 96816 zip code over the arbitrary period of November 1 through today. It looked different than I expected.

Reported crimes appear to be mostly spread through Waikiki, becoming much less frequent on the other side of Diamond Head through Kaimuki and Kahala.

And Kahala Mall, as well as the commercial corridor along Waialae Avenue, are a secondary focus of criminals, it appears.

The tourism connection isn’t a surprise. Meda and I published an academic paper back three decades, “Visitors as Victims,” which has been cited quite often over the years.

Tourists are “good” victims because they are unfamiliar with their surroundings, engage in risky behavior that they often wouldn’t do at home, and carry their “portable wealth” with them.

Anyway, there’s the crime map that surprised me.

Check out what reports about your neighborhood and share your observations.

Comments welcome.


Al Hee’s contributions to Hawaii state and local candidates

There was a comment in the last few days speculating that Al Hee must have had a highly developed “money & politics” connection in order to build his business empire, which in turn made his apparent skimming detailed in the federal charges possible.

I took a quick look at the money side of things.

It turns out that Hee and his companies did contribute to state and local candidates but were not really big players.

A review of contributions to state and local candidates shows that Hee, along with Sandwich Isles (the telephone company) and Waimana Enterprises (the parent company), and their officers and employees, contributed $69,300 from the last part of 2006 through 2014.

Nearly two-thirds of the total, or $42,700, went to the campaigns of former Gov. Neil Abercrombie, both his initial gubernatorial campaign in 2010 and his failed 2014 reelection bid.

The rest of the contributions in much smaller amounts to 15 other candidates, most of whom received a single contribution over those years.

A single $1,000 check went to Hee’s brother, former state Senator Clayton Hee.

You can see the full list of contributions to state and local candidates here.

I’ll be back later with further details about contributions to federal candidates, which turns out to be where most of the money was.