Two groups of students from the Jindal Global Law School in New Delhi have already spent summers in Hawai‘i as interns with state Supreme Court Associate Justices. In addition, last summer William S. Richardson School of Law student Eileen Nims ‘16 went to India for a two-month internship studying juvenile justice. As part of her internship, Nims compared the juvenile justice systems in both countries and evaluated the Indian system for leaders there. She now hopes to use what she learned to consider proposing changes in Hawaiʻi’s juvenile justice system as well.
Nims is specifically looking at ways to strengthen laws that provide more defined rehabilitation for incarcerated juvenile offenders. “Moving the whole system toward diversion and rehabilitation is one of Judge Browning’s missions,” said Nims of Senior Family Court Judge Mark Browning, with whom she has worked. “He has cultivated court programs to facilitate that, but it still hinges on the intention and grace of those who are in charge of the facility.”
While Hawai‘i’s juvenile justice system has been singled out as one of the best in the country, Judge Browning explained, it still needs important support from the state Legislature to ensure that rehabilitation programs are kept in place. Last year the Legislature committed $1.26 million to increase mental health services for incarcerated youth, but more is needed, said Browning. “Our whole focus is to help that child,” he said.
The strong partnership between the UH Law School and Jindal began over three years ago as the state Supreme Court began to look to India’s Green Tribunal for guidance in developing Hawaiʻi’s Environmental Court that launched in July 2015. Part of that friendship included leaders at the two law schools who saw the potential in building a partnership halfway around the world to share perspectives and to offer law students international internships.
With a deep interest in juvenile justice, and work over the past three years with the Family Court and juvenile justice system in Hawai’i, Nims hopes to work with Warden Mark Patterson of the Hawai‘i Youth Correctional Facility, as well as members of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, to propose legislation that will more fully reflect rehabilitation. While Judge Browning notes that the Family Court is already providing rehabilitation programs tailor-made for individual juvenile offenders, Nims has begun to focus on how to structure the legal framework to support these important reforms on an ongoing basis.
In her analysis of the system in India, Nims said that she saw a beautifully written law, but few of the personnel needed to put it into operation for juvenile offenders. She was invited to a facility that had good programs to rehabilitate young offenders, and to prepare them for meaningful work upon their release, but there was nobody hired to run the programs.
She emphasized the need for adult guidance in each of the programs. “There were all kinds of rooms dedicated to different vocations,” she explained. “A tailoring room, a barbershop room, a computer room, an art room, a carpentry room -- so that when the child leaves the facility, they walk away with a skill that’s employable. That’s not something we currently have as much of here. So the infrastructure was there, but there was no one to teach the skills.”