Editorials
Tuesday, February 2, 1999

Prison guard abuses
must be corrected

OVERCROWDED facilities aren't the only problem of the Hawaii prison system. Abusive behavior by prison guards is another matter that should be of serious concern. It's a situation that has festered for years, under one prison superintendent after another.

Hearings held by the Senate Judiciary Committee uncovered disturbing testimony of a failure to discipline guards at the Halawa Correctional Facility after two inmates sued the state over mistreatment and won substantial financial settlements. Former inmates at the Women's Community Correctional Center told of drug use and sex between guards and inmates.

The new state prison chief, Ted Sakai, said he has told his wardens that abuse of inmates will not be tolerated and will be actively investigated. He told senators the Department of Public Safety is reviewing the policy on use of force. The department will provide retraining for every employee who has contact with inmates.

The senators said they understood that most of the abuses at the women's prison occurred in past years and have been corrected. But they were concerned about the failure to discipline correctional officers in two 1995 cases in which inmates Ulysses Kim and Anthony DeGuzman received settlements of $199,000 and $210,000 respectively after suing the state. The senators said they were surprised to learn how long it takes to investigate complaints of abuse in the prison system.

Sen. Matt Matsunaga (D, Palolo) made the common-sense observation: "I would think that if you were a businessman and one of your employees has cost you $400,000, you'd want to certainly look into it and make sure it didn't happen again."

Sakai conceded that "If the allegations which led to this inquiry are true, then we have a disfunctional operation and we are obligated to correct it." Achieving that goal will take dedication and sustained effort. An essential component will be swift and suitable punishment for those responsible.

Tapa

Women’s caucus

WHILE women make up half the population of Hawaii, only 22 percent of the elected membership in the state House and Senate are females. Therefore, while legislators should keep the general population in mind while making the laws, women legislators have a special responsibility to think about the needs of a still underrepresented population.

In response, the Legislative Women's Caucus, made up of all 17 women from both political parties in the state Legislature, has formulated an intriguing package of goals to be pursued in the 1999 session. They include:

bullet A bill that would prohibit businesses from charging different prices to males and females for the same service or services similar in nature, and another that would prohibit the gender discrimination of any person interested in interscholastics, clubs or intramural athletics offered by a public school.

bullet A fair pay act, paralleling a federal law, that would correct and eliminate discriminatory wage practices based on sex, race and/or nationality.

bullet Better health coverage, such as requiring health insurers to include contraceptive services and supplies in their coverage, establishing an osteoporosis prevention and treatment program within the Department of Health, and changing the insurance coverage -- from biennial to annual -- for mammograms for women aged 40 and older.

bullet Stronger domestic violence laws, such as strengthening the way temporary restraining orders are issued, changing the law covering "abuse of a household member" so police can arrest suspects who have a dating relationship with victims of domestic abuse, increasing penalties for domestic violence committed in the presence of a minor child, and allowing evidence of past similar acts to be admissible in domestic violence cases.

According to Rep. Marilyn B. Lee (D-Mililani), who chairs the legislative caucus, the group of women leaders has accepted the challenge "to secure Hawaii's and America's economic future by encouraging policies that enable women to realize their full economic potential and provide for healthy and secure families." This package contains worthy and thought-provoking ideals that merit full hearing and consideration.

Tapa

Waikiki Natatorium

THE Harris administration has pledged that it will not ask the City Council for more money for the Waikiki Natatorium restoration beyond the $11.1 million already approved. The need for such a pledge arose when it was learned that the winning bid of $10.8 million did not include important portions of the restoration such as reconstruction of the bleachers.

The pledge staved off threats by some Council members to reconsider approvals for the World War I memorial, which could have been disastrous. Opponents have been looking for a pretext to scrap the restoration and thought they had found one.

Randy Fujiki, the city's Design and Construction Department director, said he and the winning bidder, Healy Tibbits Builders, were close to finalizing a contract that would add essential work to the contract without exceeding the $11.1 million limit.

Fujiki said the group that has crusaded for the restoration, Friends of the Natatorium, had agreed to raise $175,000 for floating docks and pool equipment. Other requirements will be met in house, he said, and federal assistance will also be sought.

At a time when the city is facing a massive budget shortfall, an overrun on the Natatorium restoration would have been a major embarrassment for the administration and could have doomed the project. Mayor Harris has pointed out that the two are unrelated because the Natatorium, like other capital improvements, would be financed by borrowing and would not be included in the operating budget, where the problem is. But such distinctions are often lost in the heat of political battle.

The bottom line is that full restoration of the Natatorium is essential, despite the carping of users of the adjacent beach. The city must stay within the funding limit set by the Council and if that is insufficient find the money elsewhere to finish the job.






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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor




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