The Hawai’i Juvenile Justice Information Committee is working to help as many underage offenders as possible to become productive citizens. As HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka reports, this collaborative effort appears to be producing noteworthy results.
The Juvenile Justice Information Committee was created in 1997 by the State Legislature and is made up of police chiefs, judges, county prosecutors and youth probation and corrections officers. The 16-member committee shares an information system to track underage offenders and monitor trends. Honolulu City Prosecutor, Keith Kaneshiro, says de-criminalization of underage sex trafficking is fueling a problem, especially in Waikiki.
“Since the Legislature has changed the law on juvenile prostitution and making it a violation, it’s difficult for the police department to pick up and arrest the juveniles. And, as a result, juveniles are being recruited to engage in sex trafficking, especially the runaways. Some juveniles have been recruited out of the schools and they’ve been recruited not only by adults but by other juveniles.”
Kaneshiro says early detection by enforcing truancy charges for illegal absences from compulsory education is an effective means of identifying missing or runaway youth early. But, First Circuit Family Court Judge, Paul Murakami, says the courts are aware of an increase in sex trafficking and prostitution but the caseloads are overwhelming.
“The prostitution thing is a problem. All the line judges are aware. All the probation officers are aware. This is a good news, bad news thing. The good news is we’re doing something about it. The bad news is there’s a lot of cases out there. There’s a lot of kids out there.”
The latest figures from the State Data Book shows solid improvement for arrests and incarceration. Since 2007, the number of juveniles arrested statewide decreased from more than 18-thousand to 9,385 annually, a decrease of nearly 49 percent. Juvenile Justice Information Committee chair, First Circuit Chief Judge, R. Mark Browning, says success should be celebrated but there are issues facing children that the entire community must own.
“The issue of homelessness in our community is overwhelming. The number of children that are living in homeless camps without being able to access education and various different services that they need to continue to grow and be healthy is astounding. So, I think that’s a challenge that we have to come to grips with as a community and I think it’s incumbent upon each one of us as leaders to speak out about that issue, because we’ve seen it.”
Department of Human Services director, Pankaj Bhanot, says working in silos will not improve the lives of these children. He wants the Legislature to mandate the integration of the entire system of care.
“Whether it’s prosecutor’s office, public defender, whether it’s the judiciary in general on the circuit on the family court, child welfare services, Hawai’i Youth Correctional Facility, the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Division of the Department of Health. It’s so critical that the whole system galvanizes, gels and works together because we can’t do it alone and we cannot do it without each other knowing.”
For HPR News, I’m Wayne Yoshioka.