HONOLULU (AP) - A task force that spent a year studying ways to reduce the number of Native Hawaiians in the criminal justice system submitted a list of 38 recommendations to the state Legislature on Thursday.
Among them is the suggestion that resources be directed toward children of incarcerated parents to reduce the number of families with successive generations in prison.
Such young people are at higher risk of running into legal problems themselves, while education and programs for at-risk youth are inadequately funded, it said.
Native Hawaiians make up about one-quarter of the state's population, but about 40 percent of the state's inmates and those on parole.
A law created the task force after a 2010 report highlighted the disproportionate representation of Native Hawaiians in prison, on probation and in other aspects of the criminal justice system.
"It is a tragedy that in their homeland, Native Hawaiians are overrepresented at every stage of the criminal justice system," Michael Broderick, chairman of the task force and the CEO of YMCA Honolulu, said in a statement.
The panel laid the groundwork, "but for anything significant to change, all of Hawaii must take responsibility to address this unacceptable and sad reality," he said.
The report supports Gov. Neil Abercrombie's aim to bring back to Hawaii inmates held in private prisons on the Mainland. Keeping inmates in these prisons removes them from their home, culture, family, job prospects and community support, it said.
Hawaii spends $45 million a year to house about 1,700 inmates in Arizona prisons because it doesn't have enough room at island facilities. That's about one-quarter of the state's 6,000 prisoners.
The task force recommended that the state recognize and support efforts to promote indigenous cultural practices in the criminal justice system. The report said this has been successful already in the Native Hawaiian community and has also worked in places like Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
Approaches such as sentencing circles, mediation and community justice are options for some defendants, the report said.
Incarceration and recidivism will likely decrease as poverty, unemployment, health care, housing and education are improved, the report said.
Panel member and Office of Hawaiian Affairs CEO Kamanaopono Crabbe said the task force's recommendations offer an opportunity for meaningful action.
"We no longer have an excuse not to try," Crabbe said in a statement.
The task force included representatives from the attorney general's office, Honolulu prosecutor's office and the state public defender's office.
They held public meetings on Oahu, Hawaii island, Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Kauai last summer and visited inmates at Halawa Correctional Facility and the Women's Community Correctional Center.