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Audit Reveals Continuing “State of Chaos” at Hawaii Youth Prison

Audit Reveals Continuing "State of Chaos" at Hawaii Youth Prison

The Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility (HYCF) is in non-compliance with most of the American Correctional Association (ACA) "Standards for Juvenile Correction Facilities," according to a 2007 security audit.

HYCF, Hawaii's only secure juvenile prison, has come under intense scrutiny in recent years. In an August 2003 report, the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii (ACLU) found a pattern of egregious conduct and conditions that violated minimum constitutional standards. The ACLU filed a class action suit challenging those conditions in 2005. Also in 2005, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a report that cited the absence of policies and procedures at the facility, which resulted in a "state of chaos."

As previously reported in PLN the DOJ also filed a lawsuit, but in February 2006 "entered into a memorandum of agreement" requiring "the State to remedy conditions at the facility within three years." [See: PLN, March 2007, pp. 20, 28].

Further, in 2005, eight juveniles--six boys and two girls--escaped from HYCF. Five of those escapees were part of a single incident in July 2005.

Concern about the escapes prompted lawmakers to order the state Department of Public Safety to conduct a security audit of HYCF.

Inspections of the facility were completed in September 2006. The legislature ordered Governor Linda Lingle to submit the audit report by October 2, 2006, but she did not release the results until mid-February 2007.

Auditors found essentially the same "state of chaos" cited in 2005 by the DOJ. "HYCF lacks a clearly defined security program due to the absence of established policies and procedures," the report stated. This shortcoming "permitted a culture to develop where staff is forced to make up their own practices due to a lack of direction and guidance from administration." Auditors determined that "the absence of a clearly defined security program is the root cause of the existing security problems," which put "the staff, wards, and general public" at risk.

HYCF staff could not describe emergency response procedures, and no records existed indicating that staff were ever trained in those procedures. Additionally, HYCF lacked basic written policies concerning accounting for keys, use of force, counts, and conducting searches of juveniles. There was "no clearly defined 'official' classification system" in place, and the population exceeded "the design capacity of the facility, which makes it difficult to properly place [juveniles] by custody classification," according to the auditors. The report also cited severe and chronic staffing shortages which forced maintenance staff, rather than guards, to man critical security posts. See: HYCF Financial Audit Finds Excessive Overtime/Leaves Abuses, this issue of PLN.

Governor Lingle assured lawmakers that "most of the issues raised by this audit are currently being addressed, including the creation of new policies and procedures to guide the operations of the facility."

Senators, including Jill Tokuda, however, were "very concerned" about the problems noted in the audit. HYCF stakeholders need "to sit down and have a very open and frank discussion about what we're going to do to improve the condition of the facility for the short and the long term," Tokuda said.

A March 2007 article in the Star Bulletin noted that recent changes at the youth facility included a moratorium on the use of holding cells deemed unsafe for juveniles on suicide watch, updated grievance procedures, better mental health care, and written policies to train guards. The state spent $2 million for improvements at the facility in 2006 pursuant to its memorandum of agreement with the DOJ.

Under the apparent belief that throwing more money at the problem would fix the systemic deficiencies at HYCF, in November 2007 Gov. Lingle released an additional $800,000 in state funding to improve security and living conditions at the facility. The funds will pay for door locks, surveillance equipment, air conditioning, and roof and plumbing repairs.

"The improvements that are being made to the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility will create a safer and more secure environment that is conducive to rehabilitation, which for juvenile offenders is our top priority," said Lingle.

Whether such improvements will remedy the chronic lack of policies and procedures at HYCF remains to be seen.

Sources:, Star Bulletin, HYCF Security Audit No. 2006-3231

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