Youth prison reform criticized
A senator holding hearings says policies have not improved rapidly enough
State officials have been too slow to draft and implement new critical policies for improvements at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility, a key state lawmaker said following the first in a series of legislative briefings about conditions at the youth prison.
"We have a very serious problem and they don't seem to be putting the right effort in it," said Senate Judiciary Chairwoman Colleen Hanabusa.
Drafting and implementation of policies and staffing levels were among the main issues raised by a joint House-Senate panel investigating conditions at the Kailua youth prison.
Lawmakers say they want to learn more about why allegations of harsh conditions and mistreatment of youths continue more than two years after the concerns were raised in a report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii.
Since that report, a U.S. Justice Department investigation completed last year has revealed similar findings and the ACLU has filed two lawsuits over alleged mistreatment of wards at the facility.
"There were a lot of tough questions -- a lot of issues to get out on the board," said Sharon Agnew, executive director of the state Office of Youth Services, which oversees the facility. "I think overall we learned a lot today and I hope we educated our legislators a little bit on the progress we've been making as well.
"The Hawaii state system is very complex and very detailed, and so moving through that when you have to make rapid change is a challenge."
Critics say change has not been fast enough.
Hanabusa questioned why there have only been six new policies enacted since the ACLU's August 2003 report.
Administration officials including Agnew, facility Administrator Kaleve Tufono-Iosefa and special projects director Etene Taimalelagi said they are implementing reforms and working on policies and procedures for personnel within the framework of union contracts.
"Inherent in the state of Hawaii there's a process to do that," Taimalelagi said. "All I was saying is that we have to respect that process and we go through the steps so that we can get a good policy going without any mishaps or any grudges or anything."
Officials said when they came on board there were 199 outdated policies in use at the youth prison, and they set about crafting new ones tailored for juveniles, not adults.
Taimalelagi, who was hired in October 2004 and whose job includes drafting policies, said he plans to condense the old practices into a set of about 87 new policies.
The initial 22, which focus on the most serious issues such as use of force, suicide prevention, allegations of abuse and grievance procedures, already have been crafted. Six have been approved by the two unions that represent workers and implemented, while the other 16 are awaiting final approval from one of the unions.
Hanabusa criticized the administration for taking too long -- three months -- to consult with unions on the proposed policies when it is not required under the workers' collective-bargaining agreement.
She also noted that the preceding administration had been working on new policies and procedures and questioned why those officials were not consulted when the new administration began its oversight of the youth prison.
Tufono-Iosefa said: "What's real important for us is really building a good foundation with our stakeholders, and the union is one of our stakeholders."
Two more hearings are scheduled for Tuesday and Nov. 10.