Keynote Address, Critical Criminology and Justice Studies Conference 2010 Honolulu: Classrooms or Cells1

Article excerpt

Keywords: alternatives to incarceration; costs of incarceration; corrections and higher education spending; incarceration in Hawaii; critical criminology

Hawaii, like many states, is facing a severe budget crisis, and that has meant that public higher education is in crisis. Locally and nationally, that has many thinking about the future of public education as currently funded. Specifically, how do we sustain what is arguably one of the greatest-and undervalued-aspects of American culture.

For me, thinking about public higher education in Hawaii is personal. I received both my MA and my PhD here at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and I've also worked my entire professional career in various campuses in the system (including a community college). In the seventies, I was a graduate student in a building right up the road from here (Saunders Hall), and I think I got a world class education there. And candidly, I did not have a lot of money; most of the time I was in graduate school, I received a "rent subsidy" which was income qualified. So you might say I was receiving welfare, so the affordability of Manoa (as we call it) was also important to me.

About the same time I was studying at UHM, there was another young woman, Ann, getting her PhD. here as well. Ann had already received her BA from Manoa in 1967, and she would enroll again in the early seventies as a young single mother with a son and her daughter. She would eventually complete her MA and her PhD. from Manoa. She would also have two brilliant children who survived and thrived [to take a thought from her dissertation] in the vibrant intellectual community around the campus. What does this history have to do with the crisis that confronts us?

Everybody asks "where are we going to get the money to fund higher education?" Well, I have an answer. Let's go back to my early career as a young criminologist. In 1970, I knew we imprisoned about 300 people in Hawaii, because I was doing research at the State's one and only prison which held that number. As Table 1 shows, by 1980 this number had essentially tripled (926). Like the rest of the country, Hawaii had embarked on what scholars now call "mass incarceration" so that eventually even that base number would seem small (see Table 1).

By 2008, Hawaii would imprison over 6,000 people, with a third of them on the mainland, far away from their families. I know these numbers look low (especially compared to California's numbers). Although Hawaii has an incarceration rate "28% lower than the national average of incarcerated adults per 100,000" (National Institute of Corrections 2011), the growth is something I have watched with astonishment. And because Hawaii is a small state, like many other states, we have also opened our "first" women's prison (which is currently over-crowded) during this period. Figure 1, shows the growth in women's incarceration since 1977.

Overall, the number of people we imprison in Hawaii has increased by 20% just since the turn of the century. This increase occurred despite the fact that Hawai'i has seen its crime rate decline to the lowest level in decades (Fuatagavi and Perrone 2010).

Recall that more than 60% of those we incarcerate in the US are ethnic minorities, and in Hawaii that means Hawaiians (39%), Filipino (12%), Samoans (5%), and other people of color (Hawaii Department of Public Safety 2010:43). Native Hawaiians, in particular, are over-represented in our jails and prisons.

Looking specifically at those we house on the mainland, a review of Hawaii's classification system revealed that 60% of our Hawaii inmates doing time in mainland private, for profit prisons, are actually minimum or community custody. That means they could be housed in minimum security or community custody beds here in Hawaii instead of thousands of miles away from their homes and families.

Figure 3 shows Hawaii's Correction's Budget and the amounts spent on prison beds outside Hawaii:

Speaking of money, since the turn of the century, the corrections budget in Hawaii has increased by 87. …