Judge OKs youth prison lawsuit
The state had argued the plaintiffs did not have legal standing
A LAWSUIT alleging abuse and harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender wards at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility can proceed, a federal judge ruled yesterday.
U.S. District Judge Michael Seabright ruled that three youths, none of them still at the facility, have legal standing to bring the case.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii filed the lawsuit in September, alleging that guards and an administrator harassed and unfairly punished one transgender ward and two gay inmates. The lawsuit, which also contends that state officials knew about the alleged abuse and did nothing to stop it, was one of two filed by the ACLU since September over alleged mistreatment of youths at the facility.
State attorneys argued that the three youths lacked legal standing to bring the case because none of them was incarcerated when the lawsuit was filed Sept. 1, and none of them is currently held at the Kailua facility.
Seabright disagreed, saying the lawsuit indicated that the youths might have suffered injury while incarcerated, and it was likely that they could be returned to the facility in the future.
"The court clearly recognized that the children have the ability to ask HYCF to enter an order to stop the pervasive abuse and harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender kids," ACLU attorney Lois Perrin said. "This is an incredibly important step, and it vindicates these children's rights. They should be very proud."
Deputy Attorney General John Molay said he was disappointed in the judge's ruling, adding that he is "very confident" the state will ultimately prevail.
"We do not believe that the rights of these plaintiffs were violated," Molay said. "We have interviewed our (youth corrections officers), and they have denied the allegations.
"We've also made a number of changes as to the way HYCF is currently being operated, and we believe that once all that comes out, we will prevail."
Molay also argued that because two of the plaintiffs are 18, they likely would not be returned to the youth prison if they committed crimes again. But Perrin noted that their cases are under the jurisdiction of the Family Court until they turn 19.
The youth prison has been subject to various state and federal investigations since August 2003, when the ACLU filed a report with Gov. Linda Lingle alleging that youths were being held in overcrowded, unsafe and abusive conditions.
A U.S. Justice Department report issued in August said inadequate policies and a lack of training for staff members had led to a "state of chaos" at the facility, and state lawmakers held a series of investigative hearings into the conditions this month.
State officials have said they are working on improving the conditions at the facility, but say progress has been slow because they inherited many of the problems.