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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, August 23, 2001

Island Voices
Female inmates not being ignored

By Ted Sakai
Director, state Department of Public Safety

Hawai'i's Public Safety Department is committed to ensuring that prisoners are being treated properly.

Recent articles about Hawai'i's female offenders incarcerated at the Central Oklahoma Correctional Facility would have readers wrongly conclude that the state Department of Public Safety has not done anything to address serious allegations of sexual assault.

This is not true. The department has been one of a number of organizations that has investigated the alleged incidents. As soon as allegations of sexual misconduct were brought to our attention during spring 2000, our Internal Affairs unit launched an investigation. So did the prison, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, the local sheriff and the Federal Bureau of Investigations, all of whom learned of the allegations about the same time.

Not one of us has been able to substantiate any of the claims. Nevertheless, speaking for the Public Safety Department, we will keep the investigations open in the event new evidence or witnesses come forward, and we are committed to prosecuting violators to the full extent of the law.

This administration has no tolerance for staff sexual misconduct toward inmates here or at Mainland facilities.

Additionally, one story seriously misled readers about the extent of drug use at the facility. More than 90 percent of our women inmates have a history of drug abuse when they enter prison. They continue to crave drugs even while incarcerated. Thus, the facility is required by contract to conduct random urinalysis and report the results to us. The Oklahoma Department of Corrections, which houses about 400 women at a facility in central Oklahoma, has a similar requirement.

The fact is some inmates at these facilities continue to obtain and use drugs even while incarcerated. Lab reports consistently show, however, that the level of use at the central Oklahoma facility is considered average for a correctional facility.

We are aware of the importance of keeping drugs out of all our prisons, and we strive to do so through a combination of regular searches, drug testing and treatment.

We are also committed to ensuring that our women in Oklahoma are housed in acceptable conditions and are treated properly.

For these reasons, we continue to take a proactive approach by making improvements in management. As your reporter notes, the Oklahoma facility has been under new management since December 2000, with a new warden. Moreover, to help us with the difficulties of "long-distance prison management," we hired a contract monitor who is on site at the prison.

Because the demographic, social and criminological profiles of women are very different from male offenders, women have different needs. One of the needs is for more transitional housing. Last session, the Legislature provided us with planning money to construct a transitional housing unit that would enable us to bring all the women from Oklahoma back home.

In addition to providing more transitional housing for women offenders, we need more programs that address realities in their lives, such as issues of domestic and sexual violence, economic dependence or parenting. Women offenders are three times more likely than men to have histories of physical and sexual victimization. They are more likely than men to be convicted of nonviolent (drug and property) crimes. In addition to addressing these treatment needs specific to women, we are providing staff training in gender-responsive approaches.

Zero tolerance for staff sexual misconduct. Treatment programs that address realities in women's lives. A gender responsive approach to the way we do things. These are the realities of what this administration is doing to help ensure that no one is sexually abused in our correctional system, and to reduce the dependence on drugs among the inmate population.