Abuse of incarcerated youth must be stopped
The ACLU has filed a motion in court to bring an end to abuse of inmates at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility.
GOVERNOR Lingle removed the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility's administrator and a corrections specialist more than two years ago in response to an investigation by the American Civil Liberties Union into physical abuse of inmates. Reports of abuse have continued at the facility, and prompt action is needed to finally bring such violations to an end.
The 2003 action was taken after the attorney general verified abuse at the Kailua facility that had been reported first in anonymous calls to the ACLU. Brent White, then the civil rights group's legal director, was given access to the 70 teenage wards and learned of children being forced to sit naked in cells, relieve themselves in buckets and be subjected to beatings. Girls told White they had been sexually harassed and assaulted.
The U.S. Justice Department reported in August that staffing shortages and deficient training of guards had led to a "state of chaos" and "unduly harsh and punitive conditions" for young inmates. Lingle quickly noted that the department's investigation had been completed the previous October and the state had taken steps to address most of those concerns.
At that time, Lingle said the facility "is definitely going in the right direction while recognizing there's still a lot of work to be done." Lorris Perrin, White's successor at the ACLU, described the reforms as "disappointingly slow."
Less than three weeks later, the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit accusing guards and an administrator of taunting, harassing and unfairly punishing one transgender and two homosexual inmates as recently as August. The suit alleges that higher-up state officials, including the facility's current administrator, knew about the abuse but did nothing to stop it.
Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that male prisoners threatened to rape an inmate perceived to be gay. Guards are accused of abusing and preaching to a male-to-female transgendered inmate, who was assaulted and groped by male inmates after being transferred from the females' unit. They allegedly told a lesbian couple they were going to hell, and the current administrator is said to have called a special meeting of staff and all female inmates, where he called a lesbian couple's relationship "disgusting."
Tamara Lange, attorney of the ACLU's national Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, says the abuse continues, maintaining an environment that "is so hostile and unsafe for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth that it's literally life-threatening." The ACLU has filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to stop the abuse.
State officials have declined to comment on the allegations because of the pending lawsuit, but that should not deter them from taking action similar to that taken by the attorney general two years ago. An investigation is needed to determine the veracity of the allegations, leading to appropriate action.