Thursday, September 16, 1999

State prison
monitoring about
to end

The ACLU notes OCCC
improvements, asks court to
end the case it filed

Inmate death lawsuit filed

By Mary Adamski


Conditions at Oahu Community Correctional Center have been improved sufficiently to end 14 years of mandated monitoring by national experts.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which sued the state over "harmful and intolerable" conditions at the Kalihi facility, has filed a proposal that would end the case. The state attorney general's office joined in the proposed order of final dismissal, which is before federal Judge Samuel P. King for approval.

Alvin J. Bronstein, director emeritus of the ACLU National Prison Project, said yesterday that having corrections professionals at the head of the prison system now, which was not the case most of the past 14 years, "gives us a great deal of encouragement that they will keep things going."

Bronstein headed the National Prison Project, which reached agreements with 22 states in its challenge of prison conditions, and Daniel Foley was local ACLU attorney on the case. Both warned in an announcement yesterday that the state needs to develop long-term plans to manage prison population growth to prevent reverting to the 1984 conditions.

Gov. Ben Cayetano, the third governor faced with compliance with consent decree mandates, will not comment until King has acted, according to his spokeswoman. Public Safety Director Ted Sakai is out of town and unavailable for comment.

The ACLU filed suit in September 1984 citing overcrowding and inadequate safety and programs. In June 1985, state officials entered a consent decree agreeing to set prison population limits and make sweeping facility and program improvements at OCCC and the Women's Community Correctional Center. In July 1997, the women's facility was dismissed from the decree in part because of the expansion of the 110-bed Kailua facility.

There were 1,436 inmates at OCCC in June 1985 when the settlement was reached. Since that time the Halawa Medium Security Facility was built and the state has sent about 1,200 inmates to Mainland prisons.

Bronstein, who visited OCCC this week, said the head count is now 970. About the long time in reaching this stage, he said: "When you're dealing with a small system like this, it would seem so fixable that it could be done in three or four years. The last comparable case would be Rhode Island, and that took 21 years. In that light, it doesn't look that bad."

Family files suit over death of
correctional center inmate

The family of a man who apparently committed suicide last year at Oahu Community Correctional Center claims that the state violated his constitutional rights.

Theorne Morgan, aunt of Faatuatua Kosene, 26, asked for $120 million from the state Department of Public Safety and 11 individuals in the suit filed in federal court yesterday.

It claims that officials inflicted cruel and unusual punishment and failed to provide equal protection under the law while he was in custody. It charges that prison personnel failed to safeguard Kosene despite a medical file indicating he was suicidal.

It said medical personnel did not respond in a timely manner after Kosene was found hanged with a bedsheet and that they were not adequately trained in suicide prevention and cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Kosene died May 15, 1998, one day after he was sent to OCCC for allegedly violating terms of his probation. He was on probation for first-degree terroristic threatening.

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