10/25/2005

ACLU files class action lawsuit against Hawaii over youth prison

The Associated Press

HONOLULU- A civil liberties group sued the state of Hawaii on Monday, saying it failed to protect inmates at a youth prison where teens were abused and kept in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions.

The class-action lawsuit asks for a federal court-ordered expert to "design, implement and oversee policies and procedures" at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility, said Lois Perrin, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii.

"The state has been aware for over two years of a multitude of problems," she said. "The state should be embarrassed that this lawsuit is necessary."

State officials did not return calls seeking comment Monday.

After an ACLU report in 2003 said young inmates were abused and harassed, the prison's two top administrators were removed and the attorney general's office launched an investigation.

In August, the U.S. Justice Department released its own critical report, saying the young inmates' constitutional and federal statutory rights were being violated and describing the Kailua facility as "existing in a state of chaos."

Sharon Agnew, executive director of the state Office of Youth Services, said then that aggressive changes had been made in response to the federal investigation, including a new detailed incident-reporting system, a new housing unit and the hiring of consultants and additional guards.

An ACLU lawsuit last month accused guards at the youth prison of harassing and discriminating against inmates because of their sexual orientation.

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