Public School Crime in Hawaii

Picture of teen in jail

By: T. Jeffersonian  

 A University of Hawaii study reports that Hawaii leads the nation for arrest of public-school students. The report used data from the U.S. Office of Civil Rights, Department of Education, and Honolulu Police Department.  The study does not cite specific schools, grade levels, or provide a gender breakdown but it did find that Hawaii’s schools contacted law enforcement more frequently than any other state.  The Hawaii State Department of Education cautioned that the study may be based on incorrect assumptions or data; however, the study also accused the state Department of Education of failing to accurately report Information to the Office for Civil Rights and relaying incorrect statistics in terms of student arrests.  The state Department of Education admitted to issues in the past with their data reporting for the Civil Rights Data Collection survey but said that they are working to amend and correct the data quality process. 

From 2013 to 2016, more than 1,000 public school students were arrested and they are disproportionately Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, Black and those with disabilities.  The numbers are a very serious over-representation among Native Hawaiian and Black students with and without disabilities who were arrested on school grounds.  The violations mentioned are often status offenses, such as running away or truancy, which educators say should not require police.  

One of the study’s main recommendations is to shift public funds and public monies away from criminalizing students and towards actually addressing what is actually happening in their lives. Instead of putting them into the criminal justice system, which has very long-term consequences on their lives and on the community.  Despite the possibility of incorrect assumptions, the study seems to show that the phenomenon of the school-to-prison pipeline is real and it is happening in Hawaii more than it is happening in the other 49 states.   The study proposes several recommendations including more school-based counseling and mental health therapy.  Given that Hawaii’s education budget has been significantly impacted by Coronavirus, it is unclear if more or less school-based counseling and mental health therapy for students will indeed be available.