State sends team to Kentucky to check into prison-rape claims


POSTED: Sunday, July 12, 2009

State officials are on the mainland to investigate accusations that female prisoners from Hawaii have been sexually assaulted by guards at a privately run prison in Kentucky.

“;It's a very serious issue, a serious charge,”; Gov. Linda Lingle said yesterday. “;We have a very large contract with this company, and we're going to have to sit with them when we get the report.”;

The Community Alliance on Prisons, which pushes for humane treatment of Hawaii prisoners, held a protest at the state Capitol on Friday, demanding that the state bring back female inmates held in mainland prisons. They cited the alleged sexual assaults of five women at the Otter Creek Correctional Facility in Wheelwright, Ky.

But Lingle noted the costs involved in housing the prisoners in Hawaii.

“;It's a concern because there's no where to put them,”; she said. “;If there's a desire to bring prisoners home—whether they're male or female prisoners—we're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars that we don't have right now. ... We don't have a facility right now where we can house them.”;

The state has spent $3.9 million to transfer and house female inmates in Otter Creek since October 2005. Otter Creek currently houses 169 women from Hawaii.

The protesters cited a letter from inmate Pania Kalama-Akopian of Kapolei, who accused guards of sexual assault.

“;Our fears are that nothing will change,”; she wrote. “;Nothing has changed. ... The only thing that changed was the attitude of retaliation against the inmate population. We are not safe. Where does the nightmare end?”;

Protesters alleged that five Hawaii women and 21 Kentucky women have been sexually assaulted at Otter Creek.

Honolulu attorney Myles Breiner said he is representing three women who were sexually assaulted at Otter Creek, including Kalama-Akopian.

“;Hawaii's failed to account for their responsibility to Hawaii's women,”; Breiner said. “;Women occupy a unique place in the criminal justice system. They come into the system already having been abused by either childhood experiences or later on in their developmental years.”;

At the protest, Regina Dias Tauala, a mother of one of the victims, described her daughter's ordeal at the prison. Totie Nalani Tauala was serving part of her 20-year sentence at the prison for manslaughter when she allegedly was sexually assaulted by a male guard.

“;It's hard to sleep sometimes, because I do not know what is going on,”; Dias Tauala said tearfully. “;Yes, my daughter has to pay for being in prison. However, taking them out of the state and so far away is inhumane, because they're cutting the hearts of us mothers; we cannot see or touch our children.”;

Otter Creek officials declined to comment on the alleged attacks. But Hawaii Public Safety Director Clayton Frank said a team of four investigators, including deputy director Tommy Johnson, was sent July 5 to investigate the allegations. Frank said investigators are working with the Wheelwright Police Department and the Corrections Corporation of America, the prison's operator.

“;The Department of Public Safety treats these kind of incidents very seriously,”; Frank said.


Star-Bulletin reporter Rob Shikina contributed to this report.