Hawaii Youth Prison Faces Federal Lawsuits, Government Scrutiny

KAILUA, Hawaii – Hawaii legislators held hearings in early November to discuss numerous problems that need to be addressed to avoid federal intervention at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility, which is the subject of two federal lawsuits.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed both lawsuits that claim youths held at the facility are being mistreated. The ACLU first raised concerns about the complex in August 2003 when it submitted a report to Gov. Linda Lingle that outlined overcrowding, and abusive and unsanitary conditions at the facility.

The U.S. Department of Justice has since released its own stinging report that documents numerous violations and procedural lapses.

“It is no exaggeration to describe HYCF as existing in a state of chaos. The most fundamental problem that plagues HYCF is the absence of policies or procedures to govern the facility,” the report states.

Following the release of the report the top two administrators at the facility were removed, a correctional officer was convicted of raping a female inmate, and another officer with 24 years of experience was sentenced to 90 days in jail and five years’ probation for sexually assaulting a male inmate.

The facility, Hawaii's only juvenile justice facility, contains 71 beds. It is split with housing units for boys and girls. The facility currently holds 50 to 60 wards. When the ACLU first announced its allegations in 2003 up to 90 wards were held at the facility.

State legislators met in a joint committee in November where they addressed extensive sick leave among the 60 full-time correctional officers at the facility that is causing staffing shortages and excessive overtime. The committee also asked why there were delays in creating new policies. Prison officials say they are negotiating with the correctional officers' union to prompt quicker change at the facility. Youth Services Project Director Etine Taimalelagi said it is difficult to implement reforms without support from the union.

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