Federal judge OKs state plan to fix youth prison
The state's negotiated settlement with the federal government on a three-year plan to improve conditions at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility was accepted by a federal judge yesterday.
Under the agreement, the U.S. Department of Justice can still take the state to court if it feels the terms are not being fulfilled, Attorney General Mark Bennett said.
Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii, which has filed two lawsuits over the treatment of youths at HYCF, said it might try to become part of the case.
"We would intervene to make sure the rights of the wards are adequately represented," said Lois Perrin, the ACLU of Hawaii's legal director. "It would appear to be in the wards' best interest to engage in meaningful discussions with the ACLU about the conditions at HYCF prior to finalizing the agreement.
"The state, however, categorically refused to discuss any details of that settlement prior to it being filed with the court (on Tuesday)."
Bennett said he would oppose the ACLU's intervention and that he believes the Justice Department would, too, adding that the settlement negotiations addressed only what the federal agency found during its investigation.
"The case had nothing to do with the ACLU. It was based on the findings of the Department of Justice," Bennett said.
The federal investigation began in August 2004, roughly a year after the ACLU issued a report alleging that wards at the Kailua youth prison were held in overcrowded, unsanitary and abusive conditions.
"What is most troubling about the situation is that the settlement agreement parallels the recommendations that were made by the ACLU 2 1/2 years ago," Perrin said. "It is incredibly unfortunate that it took two federal lawsuits by the ACLU and a Department of Justice investigation to even initiate the reform process at HYCF."
Members of the Lingle administration have acknowledged problems at the youth prison but say they inherited many of them and are working to correct the problems while also honoring collective bargaining agreements with state workers.
"We are going take immediate steps to effectuate (the agreement), because as of right now it is in effect," Bennett said. "As a state, from the governor to the facility to the attorney general's office, we are committed to complying with this agreement."
It is unclear how much the settlement will cost the state.
Bennett said he expects to come up with the figure in the coming days to present to the Legislature, which would have to allocate funding for the settlement.
Meanwhile, attorneys are scheduled to meet Monday with U.S. District Judge Michael Seabright on his order, also issued Tuesday, granting the ACLU's motion for a preliminary injunction in its lawsuit alleging abuse and harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender inmates at HYCF.
Seabright's ruling ordered an immediate halt to abuse of those inmates and asked the parties to draft an injunction that is consistent with the settlement agreement.
The settlement agreement with the Justice Department does not invalidate Seabright's injunction.