Youth prison told to clarify mission
A state audit echoes federal advice on a need for clear goals
Disagreement and confusion over whether youthful offenders should be rehabilitated or incarcerated is at the heart of the problems at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility, said state Auditor Marion Higa.
Higa released a report yesterday with findings and recommendations echoing those of the U.S. Department of Justice following a 2004 inspection of the Kailua facility.
The Justice Department's investigation and report resulted in a lawsuit and state agreement to improve conditions at the youth prison in three years to avoid federal court oversight. Higa's audit was ordered by state lawmakers at the start of the current legislative session.
The auditor's report recommends the Office of Youth Services, which oversees the facility, clarify its mission, state clear goals and estimate measures of success for each of its services. It also recommends staff training, annual job performance evaluations and the filling of critical positions at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility.
The state audit said the youth prison doesn't have a clear mission statement and therefore lacks policies and procedures to carry out its mission.
"If you don't have clear policies or procedures, people don't know what they're doing," Higa said.
Confusion about the mission of youth corrections is not unusual, and is being seen at other jurisdictions throughout the mainland, said Alex Escarcega, U.S. Bureau of Prisons Juvenile Services administrator.
"Juvenile justice is an evolving discipline that requires continuous reassessment of its missions and goals," he said.
Escarcega is on two-year loan to the state to help improve conditions at the Kailua facility.
He said Congress and the courts have clearly stated the need to rehabilitate rather than incarcerate youthful offenders. And he said youth prison is not designed to warehouse or punish youth, but rather to provide an array of services conducive to the rehabilitation of youthful offenders.
Higa said the lack of policies and procedures might be a factor in the high job vacancies and turnover among youth correctional officers and high turnover in upper- and middle-management positions at the facility.
The audit didn't look into whether pay might be a factor, but a financial audit, now under way, might shed some light, she said. One of the things the financial audit is looking into is how much overtime is being used.
Escarcega said the Office of Youth Services and Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility found the auditor's report fair and honest, and it gives them the guidance and direction to proceed.