Hawai`i Moves Backward


From Kat:

As you might have heard, Halawa has not only eliminated contact visits, now they have placed most of their imprisoned population in striped uniforms:

  • 4637996_Gred & white stripes: closed custody
  • blue & white stripes: protective custody
  • green & white stripes: workline
  • black & white stripes: general population

I was at Halawa a few months ago and noticed a couple of inmates in striped uniforms. They appeared to be part of a work crew, so I thought they were wearing work clothes. Everyone else I saw was in a solid color.  Then I was at the Women’s prison and some of the women were in dark green uniforms with HCF (Halawa Correctional Facility) printed on them.  I asked the department about this and was told that it was a pilot program requested by the Warden of Halawa to help staff identify the imprisoned population.


  • The origin of the black-and-white-striped prison uniform goes back to the Auburn prison system that started in New York in the 1820s
  • The uniforms made prisoners immediately recognizable as criminals, so if a prisoner escaped, the public could easily distinguish them from the non-criminal population.
  • Humiliation is exactly the point.
  • “You can trace the punitive mood of a nation by the uniforms it makes its inmates wear,” Jack Levin a professor of sociology and criminology at Northeastern University.
  • During the Depression, hordes of people wound up in prison for petty crimes, vagrancy and debt. “Everyone was poor. That was a great equalizer,” Levin said. “The idea of who was a criminal changed.”
  • “Inmates’ uniforms have almost always been about breaking them down, trying to stomp out their individuality,” said Kara Gotsch, who works for the ACLU’s National Prison Project.
  • “Uniforms are another way for institutions to emphasize they have control over the inmates.”

“You can trace the punitive mood of a nation by the uniforms it makes its inmates wear”

This is what I find so bizarre. The mood of the nation has been clearly expressed in countless polls and surveys about incarceration and the war on drugs. The majority believe that there are too many people in prison, mandatory sentencing is costly and ineffective, and long sentences actually promote criminality. So when communities are screaming that we need more programming in the community because the data show it is more effective both economically and socially than prison programming, why is Hawai`i moving backwards?  

According to the CRIME IN HAWAII 2012 (ANNUAL) released December 20, 2013, the burglary and motor vehicle theft rates in 2012 were at record low levels.  Honolulu’s total Index and property crime rates in 2012 were the lowest on record since the start of statewide data collection in 1975.

The news reported that this is not a pilot program. This is how the department has decided to further humiliate the imprisoned at Halawa and forever impact the lives of their children, who they can no longer hug on the few days when there is visitation.

I am saddened by the way we are treating our imprisoned brothers at Halawa. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we started focusing on people’s assets instead of always highlighting their deficits?  The stripes are a way to reinforce “you are a criminal” in the minds of the men. Imagine instead, really preparing people to successfully return to the community. We would have a very different system where every human being in its care and custody would be valued as a member of our community.

WE CAN DO THIS. We are Hawai`i. We care for and about each other. WE MUST RAISE OUR VOICES.

Here is the Hawai`i News Now story…

Halawa inmates wearing horizontally striped uniforms
Chris Tanaka, Sept. 2, 2014

HALAWA (HawaiiNewsNow) – It’s a new spin on an old look. Inmates in the Halawa Correctional Facility are wearing horizontally striped uniforms.

“The prison’s warden made the change citing safety concerns. Ted Sakai, the Director of the Department of Public Safety, gave his blessing. …

“‘Stripes is not the way to do it. That’s just debasing, humiliating and really inhumane” said Kat Brady of the Community Alliance on Prisons.

“She contends the stripes conjure images from history and pop culture which can have a negative effect on an inmate’s self esteem.

“’95 percent of the people are going to come back to the community. And to humiliate them and to make them feel like nothing and then return them to the community, what do we expect will happen?'”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s