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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Juvenile prison lacks direction, report says

By Peter Boylan
Advertiser Staff Writer

The state agency responsible for running the Hawai'i Youth Correctional Facility has failed to provide clear direction and proper management at the state's lone juvenile prison, according to an audit released yesterday.

The report, by the office of the state auditor, said the state Office of Youth Services "has not provided the facility with adequate guidance and support to carry out its mission" and has not "clearly communicated whether the facility's mission is primarily rehabilitation or secure incarceration."

The report also took issue with job openings "critical to the improvement of the facility" being left unfilled and the agency's "reactive rather than proactive" management.

"We believe it was fair and honest and we are appreciative of the chance to respond," said Alex Escarcega, a juvenile services administrator with the Federal Bureau of Prisons who is working with the state as part of an agreement reached with the U.S. Department of Justice in February. "Juvenile justice is an evolving discipline. We must take these recommendations and findings seriously and methodically implement changes and continuously assess our mission in providing sound correctional services to juveniles."

Office of Youth Services director Sharon Agnew was unavailable for comment yesterday.

The audit also took issue with the use of Mainland consultants to help with improvements rather than local contractors.

At least one private contractor was awarded more than $450,000, despite concerns over the consultants' "cultural competence," knowledge of the Hawai'i juvenile justice system, and familiarity with labor unions. The concerns were expressed by staff during interviews by the auditor.

The audit recommends that the Legislature consider revising state law to "clarify the purpose of the Office of Youth Services and the Hawai'i Youth Correctional Facility," and comes at a time when the state is working to comply with a federal mandate to improve conditions and practices at the Kailua facility or face federal intervention.

In February, the U.S. Department of Justice and the state reached a deal giving officials three years to correct serious problems at the Hawai'i Youth Correctional Facility and avoid a federal takeover of the facility.

The 31-page memorandum of agreement addresses the major violations uncovered by the Justice Department during an inspection of the facility in October 2004.

The findings were released in August 2005 and described the facility as being in a "state of chaos" and lacking safeguards to protect the juveniles, a violation of their constitutional rights.

Federal officials had said they would file a lawsuit against the state to correct the problems.

Reach Peter Boylan at pboylan@honoluluadvertiser.com.