ACLU pushes
better teen prison

Lingle cites progress but vows to address
allegations of abuse at the Kailua facility

Hard time

Alleged abuses at the youth correctional facility include:

>> Overcrowding.

>> Unsanitary conditions.

>> Excessive and abusive force against teen wards by guards.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii urged Gov. Linda Lingle yesterday to break a roadblock to alleviating crowded, unsanitary and abusive conditions at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility.

"It is nobody's benefit to engage in a long, expensive litigation. What we have here is acknowledged but uncorrected deficiencies," said Lois Perrin, ACLU legal director. "We want collaborative effort to get back on track."

Lingle said the findings in a letter from the ACLU would be reviewed and needed action taken. But she said the state has continued to work with the ACLU since allegations of abusive treatment against teenage wards at the Olomana prison were brought to its attention last year.

Lingle, who had yet to read the letter, said: "I'm certain that we are progressing. ... We took some deliberate steps early on to make these changes."

The ACLU said in the letter that the Office of Youth Services has been uncooperative by canceling an assessment of the youth prison's conditions; causing an expert panel member to resign from an upcoming training seminar because the member shared information with the ACLU; and not inviting the ACLU to the training conference.

Deputy Attorney General Richard Bissen Jr. said the conference is for policy- and decision-makers. Secondly, "there were people who would not attend if the ACLU was there," he said.

Sharon Agnew, executive director of the Office of Youth Services, said officials plan to invite the ACLU to future conferences.

"Before we can do that, there are old issues that need to be addressed that they weren't a part of," she added.

In August the ACLU provided a 34-page report to the governor that detailed 47 deficiencies that needed to be corrected.

In the letter released yesterday, the ACLU also alleged that overcrowding and "excessive and abusive force" against teen wards by guards still exist at the youth correctional facility. Perrin said there are 54 male teenage wards and 10 female teenage wards at the facility.

"There are 30 cells over at HYCF intended for one boy each. At least 24 of the cells have two kids in them with one bed and one child sleeping on the floor with a mattress," said Perrin.

State officials said crowding at the facility was reduced by a third.

"We disagree that there is overcrowding at the HYCF," said Bissen, who oversees youth correctional facility matters, in a news conference yesterday.

Bissen said he is aware of two cells occupied by three male teenagers. Those wards are safer in those cells than in a cell with an inmate who is considered dangerous, said Bissen.

"Certainly, it's not our intention to derail the process. We do want to work with the ACLU, and I think we demonstrated that in numerous ways," Agnew said.

"In my mind, we have been accommodating in many ways. To have them demand a place at a table in part of a process that goes beyond the ACLU is a little shocking to me. I'm just disappointed," said Agnew. "They keep coming back with comments that we haven't done anything, and it's so untrue."


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