Lingle acknowledges youth prison issues
Addressing an ACLU lawsuit, the governor says efforts are being made for change
Gov. Linda Lingle says she remains concerned about the "distressing situation" at the state's prison for youth.
On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii sued the state, charging that the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility remains overcrowded and abusive toward juvenile inmates.
"I think we still have a long way to go," Lingle said yesterday when asked about the prison and the ACLU suit.
"I don't mind having our feet held to the fire because it is such an important issue and there is such a need for change," Lingle said.
Besides the legal challenge, the prison, which has a combined total of 60 male and female inmates, is also being reviewed by the federal Justice Department, and a state legislative committee will open hearings into the matter Tuesday.
"The question is: With only 60 youths there, why can't we do something that puts us into compliance?" asks Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, who, along with Rep. Sylvia Luke (Pacific Heights-Punchbowl), will be chairing the legislative hearing.
"I am not sure the state has done all it should have," Hanabusa (Nanakuli-Makua) said.
In 2003, the ACLU released a report charging that youths were held in overcrowded, unsanitary and abusive conditions.
Lingle said she immediately removed the facility's top two administrators and opened criminal investigations into the allegations. One guard was convicted this month of raping a female inmate, and a 24-year veteran guard was convicted of third-degree sexual assault against a male inmate.
Still, Lingle acknowledges that the Windward Oahu facility has problems.
"This facility was built decades ago around an incarceration model and it wasn't built around a modern counseling model. So the kinds of people hired were like prison guards, but for children. It is not the kind of facility we want to have," Lingle said.
Both Lingle and Hanabusa said yesterday that they are troubled by the mixing of inmate populations in the facility.
"We have too much mixing of children who had committed serious offenses with those who were status offenders, who were maybe given a weekend by a Family Court judge to shock them into proper behavior," Lingle said.
"That kind of mixing isn't good," she added.
Hanabusa said, "It appears there is a systemic problem that we are treating them all alike."
A Justice Department report issued in August said, "It is no exaggeration to describe HYCF as existing in a state of chaos."
The report praised the "state's remarkable candor in recognizing its deficiencies," but added that until reforms are in place, "youth continue to suffer unduly harsh and punitive conditions on a daily basis."
Lingle yesterday said, in reaction to the federal report, that while it was released in August, it was based on a visit in 2004, and the state has made progress since then.
"We feel we are capable of getting the situation turned around, but we are realistic and we know you don't change an organizational behavior overnight. It takes time," she said.