Prosecutorial reform means fundamentally altering the incentives that drive prosecutors. It means supporting reform-minded prosecutors committed to reducing incarceration and prioritizing alternatives that are more effective at preventing future crime and improving community health.
What does an effective prosecutor do? They measure their wins not by how many convictions they get or how many people they lock in cages, but by asking for and serving constructive accountability. They support practices that proactively address racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
This year Honolulu and Hawai‘i Island will be electing a new prosecutor. We sent a questionnaire to all candidates for county prosecutor, asking them where they stand on various criminal justice reform issues.
You can read the full questionnaire by downloading the PDF at the bottom of this page.
What are the things we wanted to know?
Prioritizing Alternatives to Incarceration
The heavy cost and devastating consequences of incarceration for individuals, families, communities and taxpayers are well known. Elected prosecutors can play a role in helping to fix this crisis by pledging to cut incarceration. This can be done without sacrificing public safety. Things like addiction and mental illnesses should be treated, not criminalized and punished.
Structural racism is not something that a few people or institutions choose to practice. Systemic racism is a system in which public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations, and other norms often reinforce and perpetuate racial group inequity. It is a product of our history that has allowed privileges associated with "whiteness" and disadvantages associated with "color" to endure and adapt over time. It has become a feature of the social, economic and political systems in which we all exist, and implicit biases, which we all hold.
People of color are treated more harshly than similarly situated white people at nearly every stage of the criminal justice process. Hawai‘i is not immune to this. While Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders made up an estimated 23 percent of adults in the state in 2018, it was reported that 40 percent of people incarcerated under the state’s jurisdiction in 2018 were Native Hawaiians, and another 6 percent were identified as Samoan or "Guam/Pacific Islander." People of all races should be treated equally under the law.
By collecting, analyzing, and publishing data on how they use their discretion, prosecutors can strengthen their policies and procedures to ensure their actions and resources are ensuring fair treatment for everyone in the community and indeed are keeping us safe. It helps the public understand what's happening in prosecutors' offices — who's being charged and for what, whether sentences are being applied fairly, and what kind of outcomes are the result. Transparency would help prosecutors improve outcomes and efficiency, and would build trust with the communities they serve.
Too often, prosecutors are not in regular dialogue with local communities. Many prosecutors' offices have addressed this problem by taking steps to increase accountability to their constituents. Prosecutors' priorities should reflect all the communities they serve.
Remember: Hawai‘i is currently a mail-in state. Confirm your mailing address or register to vote here.
The ACLU of Hawai‘i does not endorse or oppose candidates for elected office, but offered this opportunity to candidates to explain their positions on key smart justice issues to the communities they hope to serve.