State needs to fix problems at youth prison
A civil rights group has again filed suit against the state, accusing officials of failing to correct problems at a prison facility for youths.
A SECOND lawsuit
in as many months alleging continuing abuse at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility heightens the possibility of federal intervention into the matter, an event state officials surely would not relish.
Reports of mistreatment and harassment have persisted despite the state's contention that it is making improvements at the prison. The suit should prompt authorities to move more quickly to correct the problems as they are legally and morally obligated to do.
The suit filed this week by the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii alleges that the state is failing to protect young inmates from abusive behavior of guards and other inmates, and harsh conditions at the facility. It asks that the federal court appoint a monitor to develop and implement policies and courses of action to ensure inmates' constitutional rights.
The suit follows another the ACLU brought last month, seeking protection for homosexual and transsexual youths who the group asserts have been abused and unfairly punished, a situation administrators and higher-ups allegedly knew about but did nothing to stop.
The facility had been subject to investigation since 2003 when the ACLU initially reported severe conditions and treatment there. Governor Lingle immediately removed the facility's top administrators. However, in August, the U.S. Justice Department described the youth prison as in a "state of chaos" due to deficient policies, procedures, staffing and training, which led to "unduly harsh and punitive conditions."
The state says it has since drafted a training plan for guards, added more staff and taken other measures to correct problems, but the allegations in recent incidents suggest that problems remain. In addition, the lawsuit contends the state has not provided adequate grievance procedures, counseling and access to legal counsel.
In calling for federal oversight, the ACLU's legal director, Lois Perrin, said that "the state has shown that when left to its own devices, it is simple incapable of correcting conditions on its own."
Federal intervention would not be unfamiliar to the state. For more than 14 years -- 1985 to 1999 -- the state was under court supervision to bring its prisons into compliance with national standards after overcrowding and inadequate safety prompted suits by the ACLU. A consent decree removed corrections operations from sole state jurisdiction, a costly and arduous process officials should not want to repeat.
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