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Hawaii Settles DOJ Suit Over Unconstitutional Juvenile Facility

The State of Hawaii settled a suit brought by the United States government, resolving a suit over unconstitutional conditions of confinement at the Hawaii Youth Corrections Facility (HYCF) in Kailua, Hawaii.

On August 16, 2004, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) launched a year-long investigation of conditions, policies and practices at HYCF. On August 4, 2005, the DOJ issues a report declaring ?a state of chaos? at HYCF.

The DOJ Report made detailed findings concerning HYCF conditions, policies, and practices. Major constitutional deficiencies were found, including: the failure to protect wards from self-harm, staff violence, and youth-on-youth violence; excessive use of disciplinary isolation; lack of adequate supervision; and an inadequate grievance system.

?Security staff? received no training in over five years and have no rules to guide their decisions,? according to the DOJ. The ?most fundamental problem? was ?the absence of policies and procedures to govern the facility.? Investigators found that ?staff and administrators were either unaware of the existence of any policies or procedures or were cognizant of their existence yet ignorant of their content.?

?HYCF?s grievance system is dysfunctional.? Complaints were difficult to file, responses were rarely received and were intimidated and retaliated against. One administrator admitted ?that he simply could not complete investigations due to resistance from guards.

The DOJ found that staffing levels were insufficient and the staff who were employed had no training. This lack of supervision was found to be a contributing factor to ?unconstitutionally hazardous conditions? at HYCF.
Another factor was ?the absence of a classification criteria,? which resulted in vulnerable and aggressive youth being housed together, regardless of the risk of harm.

The DOJ Report recommended numerous systemic changes to remedy constitutional deficiencies at HYCF. Hawaii and the DOJ subsequently entered into settlement negotiations designed to address the DOJ findings.

Hawaii and the federal government ultimately entered into a comprehensive settlement agreement which commits to sweeping changes at HYCF. To enforce the agreement, on February 7, 2006, the DOJ brought suit in federal court against Hawaii, pursuant to the pattern and practice provision of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, 42 U.S.C. § 14141. The suit alleged Hawaii had engaged in a pattern and practice of: failing to protect youth from self-harm, staff abuse, youth assaults and abusive institutional practices; subjecting youth to unreasonable isolation and failing to provide adequate due process protections; denying youth access to an adequate grievance system; failing to ensure youth had access to adequate medical and mental health care; and failing to provide qualified youth with access to adequate special education related services, pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

The parties filed a joint motion for conditional dismissal, noting the entry of the settlement agreement, and requesting ?that the Court?place the case on its inactive docket while retaining jurisdiction over the case pursuant to the terms of the Settlement Agreement? for enforcement purposes. See: United States v. Hawaii, 424 F.Supp.2d 1278 (D HI 2006).

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Related legal case

United States v. Hawaii

United States v. State, 424 F.Supp.2d 1278 (D.Haw. 03/24/2006)


[2] CIVIL No. 91-00137 DAE-KSC

[3] 424 F.Supp.2d 1278

[4] March 24, 2006


[6] The opinion of the court was delivered by: David Alan Ezra United States District Judge


[8] A hearing on the Special Master's Eleventh Report and Recommendation filed on February 10, 2006 ("Eleventh Report") was held on March 23, 2006. United States Department of Justice attorneys Judith Preston and Verlin Deerinwater and Assistant United States Attorney Harry Yee appeared on behalf of Plaintiff United States of America ("United States"). Attorney General Mark Bennett, Deputy Attorney General Ann Andreas and Special Deputy Attorney General Paul AuCoin appeared on behalf of Defendants State of Hawaii, Linda Lingle, Chiyome Fukino, Michelle Hill and William Elliott ("Defendants"). Also present was Kris McLoughlin, the court appointed Special Monitor.

[9] After carefully reviewing the Eleventh Report and the written responses and supplemental responses filed by the parties on February 21, and March 10, 2006, respectively, and considering the arguments of counsel presented at the hearing, the Court approves and adopts the Eleventh Report.

[10] The Court denies the United States' request for the imposition of sanctions against Defendants based on the findings presented by the Special Master in the Eleventh Report.

[11] In pertinent part, the Joint Stipulation and Order Regarding Plan for Community Mental Health Services filed on October 25, 2005 ("Joint Stipulation"), provides that the deadline for Defendants' achieving substantial compliance with the Plan for Community Mental Health Services ("Community Plan") is June 30, 2006. The Joint Stipulation also requires, in pertinent part, that Defendants put forth their "reasonable best efforts" to achieve compliance with the Community Plan and all previously entered court orders related to the Community Plan.

[12] In the Eleventh Report, the Special Master found that Defendants have failed to make meaningful progress to achieve substantial compliance in certain critical areas of the Community Plan and that Defendants remain far from achieving substantial compliance with the Community Plan. Defendants acknowledge that they are behind schedule and that there is much more work to be done.

[13] Because the Court has a serious concern that Defendants are not putting forth their reasonable best efforts to achieve substantial compliance with the Community Plan by June 30, 2006, the Court directs counsel for the parties to promptly meet and confer with the Special Master for the purpose of identifying and agreeing on benchmarks with an April 30, 2006 deadline in a limited number of subject areas of the Community Plan which would prove that the Defendants are putting forth their reasonable best efforts to achieve substantial compliance with the Community Plan by June 30, 2006. Thereafter, the Special Master, with the assistance of the court appointed Special Monitor, shall make findings and report to the Court whether or not the Defendants have met the identified benchmarks by the April 30, 2006 deadline and/or are putting forth their reasonable best efforts to achieve substantial compliance with the Community Plan. If the parties are unable to reach agreement, the Special Master shall identify the benchmarks for the parties. In the event Defendants fail to meet the aforesaid benchmarks, the Court will entertain a motion filed by the United States for the imposition of sanctions against Defendants based on Defendants' failure to put forth their reasonable best efforts to achieve substantial compliance with the Community Plan and all previously entered court order related to the Community Plan.