Ex-inmates allege harassment
The former youth inmates testify they were singled out because of their sexual orientation
At times choking back tears, a former inmate at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility testified she was verbally abused and harassed by guards and fellow inmates because she is gay and that administrators did nothing to help.
As she took the stand, the teenager -- identified only by her initials, "R.G." -- said she was "scared."
"I'm scared because I see the people from the past that hurt me," she said.
The teenager is one of three former HYCF inmates who are suing over their treatment while in state custody.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii filed the federal lawsuit in September, alleging that guards and an administrator harassed and unfairly punished one transgender ward, one gay female inmate and one male inmate who was perceived to be gay.
All three spoke publicly for the first time yesterday, at a hearing over the ACLU's motion for a preliminary injunction to bring an immediate halt to any abuse or harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender inmates at the Kailua youth prison.
State attorneys said they do not believe the inmates' rights were violated and that their concerns were addressed properly.
During questioning, Deputy Attorney General John Molay noted that all three plaintiffs had been cited for repeated rules violations -- even after they had been warned -- and suggested that the lawsuit may have been brought as retaliation for their punishment.
The male inmate, identified as "J.D.," said that was not the case.
"I felt that hardly anything was being done to stop harassment," he said. "Stuff is still going on with other people."
Plaintiffs said they felt they were singled out by guards and punished for seemingly minor violations while other inmates were given more latitude because they were straight.
The plaintiffs said they were subjected to constant verbal abuse from guards and faced threats of a sexual nature from other inmates, but said nothing because they either didn't know who to go to or they did not think it would have any effect.
"I was scared. I never knew what to do," said plaintiff "C.P.," a transgender who identifies as a female.
Dr. Robert Bidwell, the physician at HYCF who was called as a witness for the plaintiffs, said he felt all three seemed, at first, to take a defeatist attitude before feeling more empowered to speak up near the end of their respective sentences.
Bidwell and HYCF social worker Melvea Hardy testified that the treatment of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender inmates had fallen into a pattern of abuse that, over time, seemed to become part of the culture at the facility.
Similar accusations were made last month, during investigative hearings into conditions at HYCF held by a joint House-Senate committee.
State officials say they are working on improving conditions at the facility, but progress has been slow because they inherited many of the problems.
Kaleve Tufono-Iosefa, the facility's administrator, took the stand yesterday and repeated that the administration is working diligently to implement reforms, but that the state is obligated to honor collective-bargaining agreements with unions when trying to implement new policies or training procedures.
Testimony on the motion for a preliminary injunction is scheduled to continue today.
The sexual orientation and gender identity harassment lawsuit is one of two ACLU actions filed since September over alleged mistreatment of youths at the facility.