Friday, February 5, 1999

Improved prison
conditions may end
federal supervision

The state has spent 15 years
working on ways to reduce

Inmate abuse may be investigated.

By Gregg K. Kakesako


After nearly 15 years of federal supervision, Oahu Community Correctional Center is a step closer to ridding itself of that burden.

Alvin Bronstein, director emeritus of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project, said he is awaiting a medical report to see if the Kalihi prison is in full compliance.

Public Safety Director Ted Sakai today said the report deals with reaccreditation by the National Commission on Correctional Healthcare, which he expects to be done by month's end. "We expect to be reaccredited once again," he said.

Bronstein inspected OCCC on Tuesday and the Halawa Correctional Facility on Wednesday.

At OCCC, Bronstein said he didn't observe any inmates sleeping on the floor or "any triple bunking" -- two problem areas in the past.

He said the inmate population at OCCC on Tuesday was at 885, down from the capacity cap of 1,107 placed by the federal courts following a 1984 class action suit filed by the ACLU on behalf of inmates challenging the conditions at both OCCC and the Women's Community Correctional Center in Kailua.

"The inmate population is down, which makes everything better," he said.

Bronstein said that at the end of October, OCCC's population was more than 1,200. It has since fluctuated between 889 inmates and 920.

In June 1985, the federal courts issued what has become known as the "Spear Consent Decree," which bound the state to make changes in its correctional operations, especially in the area of prison overcrowding.

On July 16, 1997, the women's facility was dismissed from the consent decree by U.S. District Judge Samuel P. King after the state Department of Public Safety promised it would add 64 beds at the 110-bed Kailua facility. That action was finalized last summer.

To cope with overcrowding at OCCC and Halawa, the state transferred nearly 1,200 inmates to prisons in Oklahoma, Minnesota, Tennessee and Texas. There now are 3,569 inmates in eight Hawaii facilities designed to hold 3,122. A new 2,300-bed medium-security facility is being planned for the Big Island near Hilo by 2002.

A March 18 hearing will be held before King on a request that the consent decree be lifted.

Senate asks for panel
to monitor progress of
public safety section

The Judiciary Committee calls
inmate abuse and neglect 'a symptom
of a larger problem'

By Gregg K. Kakesako


Citing inmate abuse and neglect as "a symptom of a larger problem," the Senate Judiciary Committee today called for creation of a joint interim House-Senate committee to review the corrections department's progress in implementing a plan of change.

1999 Hawaii State Legislature The Judiciary Committee said it also uncovered information of alleged inmate abuse by guards that was not aired at public hearings last week that "needs further investigation by either county or federal prosecutors, or both."

A new 15-page report by the committee does not detail the alleged abuses by guards or facilities involved, but the information has been turned over to city and federal prosecutors.

Senate Judiciary Co-chairman Avery Chumbley today said there is "the lack of a clear vision for the state correctional system and the lack of leadership to address system-wide problems that have plagued the Department of Public Safety (formerly the Department of Corrections) since inception."

He said "poor communication" exists between the department's administration and the management of staff at the state's eight correctional facilities.

This has resulted in "widely differing interpretations of departmental policy and procedures."

Acknowledging the committee has limited authority over the administration of the Department of Public Safety or its management of programs and personnel, Chumbley recommended that:

Bullet Newly-appointed state Public Safety Director Ted Sakai draft a plan to correct management problems at the prison, especially those relating to acts of violence. That plan is due within 30 days. The committee has scheduled a March 10 hearing to review Sakai's report.

Bullet The Legislature request a department-wide management and financial audit.

"Personnel recruitment, screening, promotion and grievance procedures are ineffective, resulting in low employee morale and vast disparities in employee quality within correctional facilities," Chumbley said.

The Maui Democrat noted that the grievance procedures, involving adult correctional officers represented by the United Public Workers, and the internal investigation mechanism "lack accountability."

This has resulted in inadequate investigation and follow-up of allegations of inmate abuse and neglect.

The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week was prompted by concern that no prison guards were disciplined following the beating of Ulysses Kim and Anthony DeGuzman at Halawa Correctional Facility in 1995.

Kim received a $199,000 settlement after he sued the state for mistreatment. DeGuzman received $210,000.

At that hearing, Sakai, just appointed head of corrections in December, said an internal investigation into the DeGuzman case revealed there was insufficient evidence to punish the guards involved.

An outside hearing officer couldn't be found in the Kim case and a disciplinary hearing was never held.

Sakai said he is in the process of determining whether the Kim matter can be reopened.

Since taking charge, Sakai said he has been looking into the possibility of speeding up the investigation process.

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