The purpose of the Social Justice Action Committee is to address civil rights issues relating to political, educational, social and economic equality, with an emphasis on women's, LGBT+ and minority rights in Hawaiʻi, the U.S. and abroad; to facilitate a free exchange of ideas and views regarding civil rights issues; to provide educational and training opportunities for organizers regarding both the appropriate enforcement of civil rights laws as well as the defense of civil rights claims made on behalf of the people; and to disseminate information on updates, emerging issues and best practices in the civil rights arena.
The 2019 legislative priorities include (but are not necessarily limited to):
Eliminating cash bail. As part of our ongoing campaign to reform the so-called “criminal-justice” system, YPDA is calling on the State of Hawaiʻi to abandon the failed policy of reliance on cash bail. A preponderance of research shows that cash bail is highly problematic on multiple levels: it creates a tiered system whereby the wealthy are able to buy their way out of jail, while the poor languish behind bars without being proven guilty of any crime. Underlying racism means that cash bail is disproportionately used against people of color, exacerbating racial disparities and injustices throughout the system. With so many poor people locked up, the rate of increase in our incarcerated population is exploding, leading to real health and safety concerns and opening the state up to potential lawsuits. It’s also costing the taxpayers an inordinate amount of money to house this growing population.
Replacing cash bail with a risk assessment tool, overseen by the courts and administered by trained social workers, is more fair, more effective, safer and significantly cheaper than keeping people locked up. Under risk assessment, persons—regardless of wealth—who are found to be a danger to society or a flight risk are detained. All other people who enter the criminal justice system are released, either on their own recognizance, or to a program where they can receive treatment for drug addiction, mental healthcare issues or whatever other need they are lacking that led to their arrest in the first place. Along with risk-assessment, a simple text message-based alert system will work for most people to remind them to show up to court. This system has been proven to be more successful than cash bail in states like Kentucky and jurisdictions like Washington, D.C., without destroying people’s lives over, usually, nonviolent mistakes they have made. It offers people a second chance to make things up to their friends, families and neighbors, rather than dooming them to a lifetime of contact with the criminal justice system.
Legalizing responsible adult-use marijuana. Dovetailing with our efforts to eliminate cash bail, this common sense policy would also reduce our incarcerated population by removing one of the more common nonviolent offenses people are booked for: possession of marijuana. If done properly, where tax rates and retail prices are intelligently set to outperform black market sales, such a policy would effectively cut the legs out from under illicit black markets and the cartels that profit from them, further reducing criminal activity as consumers flock to legal retail points instead of soliciting potentially dangerous, back ally drug deals.
At the same time, taxing and regulating marijuana usage—which will continue to be popular in Hawaiʻi regardless of whether or not it is legal—would open up millions of dollars of badly-needed revenue for the state each year ($20 million in the first year alone) which ought to be invested in education and public health initiatives to educate and inform consumers about the risks and benefits of cannabis use and help empower youth to make informed decisions. Whether we’re talking about abstinence-only sex education or a ban on pakalolo, prohibition never succeeds at curbing human behavior. People are going to smoke weed. It’s just a fact. Let’s make sure they do it in the safest manner possible.
And while we’re talking about human behavior, recent studies have shown that states with legal cannabis, or easy access to medical cannabis (not Hawaiʻi) have, on average, a 14 percent lower rate of opiod prescriptions and a 25 percent lower rate of accidental overdose. Further, studies have shown that there is no statistical difference between the rate of traffic collisions in states where cannabis is legal and states where it is not. Finally, while the act of smoking is certainly a public health risk, it is undeniable that tobacco use is worse for public health than marijuana. Alcohol, similarly, causes millions of deaths a year, while marijuana use is the primary culprit in almost no deaths per year.
Title X and The Domestic Gag Rule. Title X currently allocates federal funds for organizations like Planned Parenthood to provide family planning services, and prohibits any of those funds from being spent on actual abortions. The Trump administration is in the process of enacting rules that will prohibit any Title X funds from being allocated to organizations that provide any information or education about abortions. This action has been branded as the “Domestic Gag Rule,” and it is illegal and unethical for the federal government to prohibit doctors from talking to patients about healthcare, especially potential lifesaving treatments. YPDA is partnering with Planned Parenthood to ask the state of Hawaiʻi to cover the $2.1 million that may be pulled by the Domestic Gag Rule policy.