Deal keeps youth prison from federal oversight
The state has agreed to improve conditions at the troubled Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility, in a deal with the U.S. Department of Justice that keeps the prison from being placed under federal oversight.
The agreement, announced yesterday, comes six months after the Justice Department issued a report saying inadequate policies and procedures, staffing shortages and deficient training for guards had led to a "state of chaos" at the Kailua prison.
The Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility agreement between the state and the federal government sets forth policies and procedures aimed at:
» Protecting inmates from harm from guards and fellow inmates;
» Developing an adequate grievance procedure;
» Providing proper training for guards and other administrators;
» Creating policies to recognize and provide adequate treatment for suicidal inmates and providing access to education for inmates with disabilities.
"Our overarching goal is to have a facility that respects the constitutional rights of the wards at the facility and gives them the best possible treatment to turn their lives around," Attorney General Mark Bennett said.
He said he aggressively pursued a deal so the state could avoid a court-ordered consent decree that would put the prison under federal oversight.
Meanwhile, in a separate case, a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii seeking an immediate halt to abuse and harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender inmates at the Kailua youth prison.
U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright found that such inmates at HYCF were harassed and abused, often within the presence of administrators who did nothing to rectify the situation.
"We are hopeful that the judge's preliminary injunction will bring needed change at HYCF to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender wards from harm in the future," said ACLU legal director Lois Perrin. "All in all, the ruling is a huge victory."
In his 77-page ruling, Seabright said there was ample evidence to support allegations that verbal, sexual and physical abuse and harassment of such inmates is indicative of "systematic problems at HYCF that have not been adequately addressed by the supervisory defendants."
Gov. Linda Lingle issued a brief statement saying her administration accepted Seabright's findings.
"I am very troubled by the conditions he describes," Lingle said. "Harassment of any wards at the HYCF, whatever their race, gender or orientation is totally unacceptable."
Seabright's ruling was drafted before the final agreement was announced between the state and the Justice Department, but his order instructs the attorney general's office and the federal agency to craft an injunction consistent with his findings.
Bennett said he planned to meet with Seabright and plaintiffs' attorneys to discuss the agreement with the Justice Department and how it relates to his ruling. "Hopefully, they will look at this agreement as a positive step," Bennett said.
Perrin noted that the ACLU first filed its report alleging that youths were held in overcrowded, punitive and unsafe conditions at HYCF in August 2003.
"While we would like to believe it's a step in the right direction, the abysmal progress at HYCF to date casts serious doubt on prospects for swiftly improving HYCF absent a court order," she said.
Bennett said state attorneys have been negotiating to address the 18 recommendations made for improving the youth prison by Justice Department officials in their August report.
The agreement creates policies and procedures to cover areas such as training guards and dealing with suicidal inmates. It does not specifically address lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender inmates.
The ACLU sued in September on behalf of three former inmates who alleged they were abused and harassed based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
Seabright's ruling said the three youths were credible when they testified in court in December, and added that he was "concerned" about the credibility of HYCF Administrator Kaleve Tufono-Iosefa because of contradictory statements she made regarding the issuance of an internal memo regarding the treatment of a gay inmate and her girlfriend.
Seabright agreed with many of the allegations made by the plaintiffs and rebuffed arguments made by state attorneys, who suggested that the lawsuit may have been brought by the three youths as retaliation for punishment they received.
The judge cited testimony from other witnesses including Dr. Robert Bidwell, the physician at HYCF who was called as a plaintiffs' witness, and at least one youth corrections officer.
"The defendants' theory -- the plaintiffs concocted this lawsuit in retaliation for HYCF punishing them for minor infractions -- simply is not plausible with respect to any of the plaintiffs," Seabright wrote.
Conditions at HYCF have been scrutinized since the ACLU report in 2003. Lingle removed the top two administrators and subsequent investigations have resulted in criminal convictions against guards.
In addition to the Justice Department investigation, the Legislature has conducted hearings into conditions at the facility and has introduced bills this year aimed at preventing further problems.