Panel subpoenas Kailua prison staff
A legislative committee investigating alleged abuse and mistreatment of wards at the state's youth prison has subpoenaed 17 workers at the facility to testify at hearings next week.
Those being called before the committee include the facility's top administrator, two consultants, two medical officials, two youth corrections officers, and five social workers.
Subpoenas were being served yesterday after they were approved by Senate President Robert Bunda and House Speaker Calvin Say.
"They're primarily for employees, to ensure that there is no retaliation" against them for testifying, said Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, one of the chairs of the committee investigating conditions at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility.
"In the committee's mind, it's best to issue the subpoenas," she added.
Sharon Agnew, executive director of the Office of Youth Services, which oversees the Kailua lockup, said she has no concerns about workers being subpoenaed and that the administration has nothing to hide.
"I think that's fine," Agnew said. "They certainly are free to ask anybody to present testimony."
Agnew noted that Tuesdays are set aside to train workers on updated policies and procedures, and that training will have to be delayed for employees who are called to testify. She said staff members will cooperate, but she questioned whether the legislative hearings were necessary.
"I would hope they would pick up the phone and call us if they have questions," Agnew said, "and that we can avoid some of this taking up peoples' time and spending the public's money in something that can be cleared up in a phone call."
Lawmakers have said they want to find out why allegations of unduly harsh and abusive conditions persist at the youth prison more than two years after concerns were raised in a report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii.
Since that August 2003 report, an independent federal investigation reached similar conclusions and the ACLU has filed two lawsuits over alleged mistreatment of wards.
Agnew and other Lingle administration officials have acknowledged that more work needs to be done to improve conditions, but say some of the problems were deep-rooted and inherited from previous administrations.
Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli-Makua) had criticized the administration for taking too long to implement reforms. She said she now wants to hear from the people who are at the forefront of the matter.
"It's always better to get the information from the line people than from administrators," she said.