Transforming Justice with Compassion: Addressing Crime through a Public Health Lens

Harrison Seuga
Reentry Director of Asian Prisoner Support Committee (ASPC)

Sitting at a café with Harrison Seuga, one would think he was a professor, never guessing that he was a once deemed ‘lifer’ who spent 21 years in San Quentin State Prison.  His eyes are kind, his words are thoughtful, and his occasional carefree laughter draws people to him.  In addressing the issue of incarceration, he speaks of the need for more research and data in addressing the Asian and Pacific Islander (API) youth and crime.  Yet, the tattoo across his knuckles tell a different story that goes beyond the academic discussions – one that goes to the core of why he has dedicated his new life to helping the youth-at-risk and the incarcerated Asian and Pacific Islanders.

As the Reentry Director of Asian Prisoner Support Committee (ASPC), Seuga speaks thoughtfully and passionately on the need to transform how juvenile crimes, especially Asian American crimes, are addressed – from a criminal justice to a public health approach.  Recognizing how immigration, violence and trauma impacts health, Asian Health Services is partnering with Harrison and ASPC to do just that.

“The Asian model minority myth hurts so many Asians and Pacific Islander youth because the court system assumes Asian youth are smart and ‘should have known better’,” said Seuga.  “Studies have shown that Asian American youth are twice as more likely to be tried as an adult and that means many of them are receiving harsher sentences and little access to much needed services.”  Seuga, who is Samoan, was also tried as an adult when he was 17 years old.

APSC is focused on several areas including prevention, prisoner support, and re-entry.  Seuga, along with three full time fellow staff and four volunteer core members, are dedicated to building coalition, and transforming justice to one of restoration, compassion, and healing.  “We have come this far through the active support of our community and community organizations like Asian Health Services.  Their contributions have greatly impacted APSC’s ability to function and carry out our mission.”

APSC and Asian Health Services’ youth program will partner together to launch a young men’s leadership program in Oakland that will address topics very rarely discussed in many Asian American households, including self-reflection, effects of violence, restorative justice, financial awareness and planning, masculinity, and forgiveness.

In addition, APSC and Asian Health Services plan to work together to develop a re-entry model that not only provides parolees access to mental and health services but also explores possible job training and opportunities within community health centers..  

“We are working toward a solutions-based model,” said Seuga.  “We continue to welcome public health agencies and institutions to come to the table to begin the discussion on possible solutions.  In the meantime, our goal is to build a public health approach that can become a model for others.”