Detained youths
should have ombudsman


The administrator and a corrections specialist at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility have been replaced following reports of violence against children in custody.

GOVERNOR Lingle was decisive in replacing management of Hawaii's youth detention facility upon learning of physical abuse of children by guards. Children at the facility who had been reticent about making allegations to state attorneys confided to the American Civil Liberties Union about the punishment they endured, and the ACLU reported the abuses to Lingle.

The revelations about violence within the walls of the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility and problems in Hawaii's child welfare system point to the need for an independent ombudsman to ensure proper care of Hawaii's children receiving out-of-home care, including those in correctional facilities. Half the states already have such offices, some having initiated them with grants from the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Brent White, the ACLU's legal director in Hawaii, learned of the abuses at the Kailua detention facility from anonymous calls and notified the state. Two attorneys were assigned by the state to investigate but found nothing, according to White. The ACLU then was allowed to conduct its own investigation, finding the youths to be more candid.

The result was a 34-page report based on interviews with 70 teenage wards detailing incidents of their being forced to sit naked in cells, crowded into small cells, forced to relieve themselves in buckets and repeatedly beaten by guards. Girls incarcerated at the facility said they were sexually harassed and assaulted, and their privacy was invaded while dressing, sleeping and using the bathroom.

The report recounts one incident in which a guard allegedly "landed five or six punches and uppercuts" to the head of a 13-year-old inmate who "suffered a split lip, black eyes and a contusion on the side of his face." Three other children witnessed the beating, according to the report.

"Every ward we spoke to had heard of incidents of violence by the guards and expressed fear of being beaten by the guards," White said.

Lingle appropriately removed Melvin Ando as administrator of the facility and Glenn Yoshimoto as a corrections specialist after reviewing the ACLU report. The Attorney General's Office has launched an investigation into the alleged violence by guards.

However, children at the facility are likely to remain vulnerable until they can be assured that their complaints about abuse will not bring retaliation. They obviously felt comfortable in revealing the abuses to the ACLU, which is to be commended for investigating the problem and presenting its findings to the governor.

The Rhode Island legislature created the Office of Child Advocate in 1980 as an independent agency, whose director is appointed by the governor, to oversee child welfare, but its primary duty now is to ensure the safety of children in protective custody. Other states have created similar child ombudsman offices in response to institutional abuse or neglect. Hawaii now has reason to do the same.



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