Judge orders changes at troubled youth prison
The state is told to create policies to fight abuse and harassment
A federal judge is ordering that new policies be established at Hawaii's troubled youth prison to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender inmates from discrimination, harassment and abuse.
U.S. District Judge Michael Seabright, in an injunction issued Wednesday, also instructs the state to hire a private consultant to oversee changes ordered at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility in Kailua.
The ruling stemmed from a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union in September on behalf of gay, lesbian and transgender youths, who alleged abuse by guards.
It also came a month after the state, in a separate case, settled with the U.S. Department of Justice to make "sweeping and comprehensive changes" at the prison to avoid a lawsuit.
Lois Perrin, ACLU's legal director, said her clients were "very pleased" with the order.
"A judge has agreed with them that the way that they were treated was wrong," Perrin said. "They are very pleased to see that other kids at HYCF will benefit from their experiences."
The order, which lists 10 steps, calls for policies against physical and verbal abuse of inmates perceived to be lesbian, bisexual, gay or transgender. It also requires guards to refrain from locking youths alone or addressing them with slurs "used to convey hatred, contempt or prejudice." All grievances are to be investigated, the order said.
First Deputy Attorney General Lisa Ginoza said the state would follow the order "aggressively."
"We accept the court's findings," she said.
On Wednesday there were 50 boys and 12 girls at the prison, which can hold 75 teenagers at a cost of $6 million a year, said corrections manager Kaleve Tufono-Iosefa. Ninety-eight people are employed at the prison to take care of inmates ranging from 13 to 18 years old, she said.
The order gives the state five days to choose an expert consultant to supervise the changes. The state is considering two people already assigned to manage improvements under the federal agreement.
They are Alex Escarcega, a juvenile-services administrator with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, who arrived in Hawaii on Jan. 23; and Russel Van Vleet, a criminal justice and corrections specialist at the University of Utah. Van Vleet is scheduled to arrive March 12.
Last month, Seabright issued a 77-page, critical assessment detailing conditions at the prison. It said court records were "replete with documents and testimonial evidence demonstrating verbal harassment and abuse" of inmates by prison officials. It added that supervisors were aware of abuse, "yet they took no meaningful steps to remedy the conditions."
The state has three years to reform the prison, according to the federal agreement.