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President's Message: Annual Meeting to Cap Busy League Year (Suzanne Meisenzahl)
League Sponsors a Discussion on Violence (Pamela Ferguson-Brey)
League Works Toward Resolution of Issues (Astrid Monson)
League Meets with Inouye Aide
Vote Counts (Arlene Ellis)
In Memoriam

League Sponsors a Discussion on Violence

Violence panel moderator Pamela Ferguson-Brey, Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro, Public Defender Carolyn Brown, Victim Advocate Martha Ross, Senior Family Court Judge Michael Town.

In 1994, League adopted violence prevention as a part of its national program, and as part of the effort to educate League members and the community on this issue, on March 4 the Honolulu League sponsored a panel discussion on juvenile and family violence. Called A Discussion on Violence, it was moderated by Pamela Ferguson-Brey, chair of the Human Resource Committee. Panelists were Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro; Carolyn Brown, supervisor of the family court division for the Public Defender; Martha Ross from the Sex Abuse Treatment Center; and Senior Family Court Judge Michael Town.

Panelists were asked to address the following topics:

  1. The role of their office in violence prevention

  2. How serious is juvenile and family violence in our community.

  3. What can we do to reduce violence in our community.

  4. What is their stand on rehabilitation versus punishment.

  5. How do you stand on the issue of waiving family court jurisdiction over juvenile offenders so they can be tried in adult court and face adult punishment.

Keith Kaneshiro

The role of the Department of the Prosecuting Attorney is to "promote and ensure public safety and order through effective, efficient and just prosecution." According to Kaneshiro, these goals can best be met by keeping violent offenders in prison and off the streets. He noted that while Hawai is considered one of the safer places to live, this does not mean we do not have a crime problem. Juvenile violence, domestic violence and drugs are all problems that cannot be ignored.

Kaneshiro stated that violence is becoming more random in Honolulu and violent juvenile crime is increasing. He noted that juvenile arrests increased by 86% between 1980 and 1992, statewide arrests for violent crime increased by 112% over the same period and in 1992 46% of juvenile offenders were under the age of 15. While social scientists have recently suggested that Hawaii has no gang problem, Kaneshiro points to these statistics as evidence that gang membership in Hawaii is increasing.

More resources and courtrooms are needed to dear up substantial case backlogs. Specialized prosecution units and support for crime victims are other ways to help reduce violence in our community. Kaneshiro urged the audience to become informed, involved and concerned about violence in this community. "The legislature is in session and it is a good time for citizens to address the legislature and express your concerns about violence in the community," he said.

On the subject of rehabilitation versus punishment, Kaneshiro suggested that he views punishment as part of rehabilitation. He did note, however, that not all forms of punishment necessarily involve imprisonment. Criminals need to be held accountable for their actions or they will not be rehabilitated.

Kaneshiro advocates lowering the age that family court jurisdiction over a juvenile can be waived to adult court from 16 to 14, because younger juveniles are committing more violent crimes. He supports provisions giving family court increased discretion to waive its jurisdiction over minors.

Carolyn Brown

Ms. Brown views her role as an attorney who defends individuals who are charged with a crime as opposed to a criminal defense attorney. The latter term implies that the people you defend are criminals. Brown sees her role as assuring that those who are charged with a crime are afforded their constitutional rights.

Brown analogized crime to a disease, suggesting that juveniles, if treated early with prevention, can be successfully cured. Brown urged League to become involved in violence prevention by working with schools and the community to set an example for young people. She believes prevention is the answer to juvenile crime, not the prosecutor, court, or public defender, because they all get the cases after the crime has occurred.

Brown disagreed with Kaneshiro's statistics which indicated an increase in juvenile arrests. According to Brown, a recent legislative report on gangs indicates that the percentage of serious offenses committed by juveniles has remained unchanged since 1983.

The Office of the Public Defender does not support mandatory incarceration. The Office does believe judges should be given discretion to make sentencing decisions on a case by case basis, because each

case is different.

On the issue of juvenile waiver, Brown supports judicial discretion for waiver, but is concerned that under the current law judges must assume the juveniles committed the offense they are

charged with.

Martha Ross

Ms. Ross, who has assisted over 1,000 victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault through the criminal justice system, spoke from the perspective of crime victims. According to Ross, it is important for policy makers to have statistical information on crime trends so they can allocate resources appropriately Some examples:

  • A 1992 report by the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women estimated that 20% of women in Hawaii between the ages of 18 and 64 have been a victim of domestic violence.

  • According to a 1993 report by the Hawaii Attorney General, 2.2% of women in Hawaii, or 9660 women, were victims of forcible rape or attempted rape.

  • 80% of child sexual assault victims in Hawaii were assaulted by someone they knew.

  • In a 1990 survey of 500 students in Hawaii, 79% believed that a girl could not be forced to have sex if she did not want to. The average number of times the students thought a girl must say no to sex to be believed was 6.

  • Firearms are being brought into Hawaii's schools with alarming frequency.

According to Ross, victims do not have legal representation in the criminal justice system. A criminal case is brought by the prosecutor on behalf of the state, not the victim. The family court system is set up for children who are defendants, but there is no special rule or procedure for children who have been victims of a crime. Ross noted that "Hawaii has a national reputation for being unsympathetic to child victims." The questions child victims ask about our criminal justice system, and the answers provided for in the law, illustrate this problem:

Q: Will the person who hurt me be in court?
A: Yes

Q: Can my parents come and sit with me while I testify?
A: No

Q: Why did the judge let the case be continued so may times?
A: The average time a case involving a child is continued is two times. Many reasons that cases are continued do not relate to the needs of victims.

Prevention and education are the key to reducing violence in our community. The Women's Coalition, League and community groups have joined together during this legislative session to support a violence prevention bill. The bill would require a violence prevention curricula to be integrated into grades K-12 in our public schools.

According to Ross, the punishment and rehabilitation question leaves out one important concern from the victim's perspective, public safety. For some criminals, such as sex offenders, the recidivism rate is high and the chances for rehabilitation are slim or nonexistent. For these criminals, the only way to assure safety in our community is incarceration.

Michael Town

According to Judge Town, the role of the judiciary is to apply the law in a reasonable common sense way. Hawaii is one of a few states with a unified family court system. Under this system, all cases involving family matters will be heard in the same court. For example, cases involving guardianship, child abuse, domestic abuse, adoption and divorce are all heard in the family court.

While as a society we do say the "people are not for hitting," historically there have been mixed messages. Husbands were permitted to hit their wives, and children can still be hit for purposes of discipline. Team sports involve violent physical contact, and wars represent an extreme form of human violence. Our society is exposed to these phenomena, which sends a mixed message to the community about violence.

Hawaii's family court hears over 35,000 cases per year. Judge Town indicated that in 1979 when he first was appointed to family court, there were few spouse abuse cases, and now there are thousands. Family court filings for juvenile cases increased by 10% last year to more than 16,000.

On the subject of rehabilitation versus punishment, Town supports "therapeutic justice." This holds the offender accountable, but with a helping hand. He believes that accountability and community safety are key elements of appropriate sentences. Treatment is important. When offenders are released from prison, if they have not been treated they continue to pose a threat to community safety. However, if offenders are not treatable we need to look at long-term incarceration or monitoring.

On the issue of juvenile waiver, Judge Town supports judicial discretion. He would also support a change in the current law to allow the family court to retain jurisdiction of juveniles after they are 19.

Judge Town encouraged League members to become involved in creating a violence free community by volunteering with agencies that help troubled youth and crime victims.

Following the presentation, the panelists answered questions from the audience.

TV crews and audience in rapt attention at panel on violence.

Pamela Ferguson-Brey
Chair, Human Resources Committee

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