Lingle cites progress at youth prison
Though she acknowledged she was not satisfied with reform at the state's youth prison, Gov. Linda Lingle criticized the Legislature's investigative hearings for not painting an accurate picture of the progress that has been made.
"If you look at just the number of young people being held today compared to August of '03, when it was 93 people, and it's 55 people today -- that accomplishment alone means that the conditions are much improved from a couple of years ago," Lingle said yesterday.
Reform at the facility is "nowhere near what we think it should be, and it's going to be a challenge to get where we need to go, but we are going to achieve it," she added.
The administration was harshly criticized this week by workers from the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility subpoenaed to testify before the legislative committee investigating conditions at the Kailua lockup.
Lawmakers have said they called the hearings to determine why allegations of abuse and harsh conditions persist more than two years after they were raised in a report by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Testimony from medical staff, teachers, social workers and guards echoed the findings of a U.S. Justice Department report in August, which said a lack of policies and procedures, coupled with inadequate staffing and training, had led to a "state of chaos" at the facility.
Most said they did not feel safe at their jobs and that they did not have confidence in the ability of the current administration to run the facility.
Much of the criticism from staff members was that top administrators seemed to ignore their concerns or minimize the seriousness of the situation.
"What is becoming pretty evident is that if the teachers and the social workers and the guards don't feel safe, then the facility is not safe for the kids," said House Judiciary Chairwoman Sylvia Luke (D, Pacific Heights-Punchbowl).
Administration officials said they were aware of all the concerns raised by staff members, adding that they are working on addressing the problems.
Lingle said she did not think lawmakers were taking into account the history behind problems at the facility, noting that many of the concerns being raised now have been raised before under previous administrations.
"This is a decades-old problem," Lingle said. "Not one decade, but two decades old."
Lingle said she has confidence in her administration's ability to successfully implement a corrections program that stresses treatment and rehabilitation rather than traditional incarceration for young offenders.
She said the state's recently opened "safe house" cottage for girls on the Big Island was a big step in that direction. The cottage, known as Ke Kama Pono, or "Children of Promise," is for teenage girls who commit nonviolent crimes that do not warrant sending them to the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility.
"While everybody's focus right now is at HYCF, I think you have to look at it as a whole system of care for young people," Lingle said. "Again, I'm not satisfied with the progress we've made (at HYCF), I don't think anyone is and I don't think anyone has taken that position, but we are headed in the right direction."
Legislative hearings are scheduled to conclude Wednesday, when lawmakers plan to question administration officials subpoenaed to testify under oath.