ACLU urges protection of gays in youth prison
A federal court motion asks for prompt action on its harassment suit
The American Civil Liberties Union has asked a federal court to order the state youth prison to implement policies and training immediately to prevent physical and verbal abuse of gay inmates.
"The environment at this facility right now is so hostile and unsafe for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth that it's literally life-threatening," said Tamara Lange, attorney for the ACLU's national Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, one of several lawyers representing three prisoners in a civil rights lawsuit filed against state officials and individual guards last month.
The lawsuit -- filed Sept. 1 on behalf of a 17-year-old male-to-female transgendered prisoner, an 18-year-old lesbian inmate and an 18-year-old male prisoner perceived to be gay -- alleged "a campaign of unrestrained harassment, abuse and other maltreatment" by the youth corrections officers and staff at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility in Kailua.
But Lois Perrin, the legal director for the ACLU in Hawaii, said that "waiting for the lawsuit to resolve itself before acting on the rampant problems at this facility would only leave these youth in danger, and we believe there's ample evidence to persuade the court to compel the state to act now to ensure the safety of those children."
On Monday, the ACLU filed papers with the U.S. District Court backing up its motion seeking a preliminary injunction. In its motion, the ACLU asked that the facility be required to work with an expert consultant to come up with policies, procedures and training.
In its lawsuit, the ACLU alleges that:
» Male prisoners at the state's youth prison sexually harassed a fellow inmate who was perceived to be gay, threatening him with rape.
» The facility's administrator called a special meeting of the staff and all female inmates to belittle a lesbian couple, calling their relationship "disgusting."
» Guards routinely told the couple that they were going to hell and made lewd and humiliating remarks.
» The officers verbally abused and preached to a male-to-female transgendered inmate. After being transferred to the boys unit, the inmate was assaulted and groped by male inmates and later segregated for almost two months with no interaction with other prisoners.
The suit also alleges that the facility's administrator, Kaleve Tufono-Iosefa, state Department of Human Services Director Lillian Koller and Office of Youth Services Executive Director Sharon Agnew were aware of the abuses, but failed to properly investigate and halt the abuse.
Agnew said she could not comment because she has been named as a defendant in the complaint. Koller and Tufono-Iosefa could not be reached for comment.
The ACLU alleges that officials "ignored and sometimes even participated in an atmosphere of harassment, humiliation, and fear" against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered prisoners despite repeated pleas by doctors and psychologists worried about the inmates' safety and welfare.
The facility responds to reported abuse by segregating or isolating the inmates instead of punishing their abusers, the ACLU alleges.
"The gay and transgendered wards in the state's care desperately need protection from the atmosphere of harassment and fear they deal with on a daily basis," Perrin said.
Perrin said the facility does not have policies or procedures in place to protect the inmates from harassment and discrimination despite the ACLU's advocacy, intervention by the U.S. Department of Justice and a recommendation by a Honolulu Family Court judge.
The Justice Department, which began investigating the facility over a year ago, issued a scathing report in August that found widespread violations of the wards' constitutional and civil rights.
Earlier this year, a Family Court judge issued a decision that noted the urgent need for policies and procedures relating to the treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered inmates.
"HYCF's lack of minimally adequate policies, procedures and training to ensure ward safety resulted in and threatens to cause additional abuse of plaintiffs by staff and other wards so severe that it has caused each of the plaintiffs to contemplate suicide and one of the plaintiffs to engage in self-mutilation and attempt suicide," the ACLU said in its motion.
A hearing on the ACLU's request is set for Oct. 31.