Bring out more facts about prison inquiry
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A little light shed on the latest women's prison investigation would go further to improve the level of public trust in our corrections system than the state's current attitude, which seems to be: No news is good news.
Advertiser writer Kevin Dayton this week uncovered an inquiry being conducted by the state attorney general's office into allegations of misconduct at the Women's Community Correctional Center in Kailua. The Department of Public Safety confirms that the probe has led the agency to place several personnel on leave, including the facility's chief of security.
But that's it. No information on the nature of the allegations. And the A.G.'s office won't even go so far as to confirm there's any inquiry.
Granted, state investigators would be wise to keep most details about the probe to themselves. Nobody would suggest that they do anything to endanger the investigation.
However, it's difficult to imagine what public good is being served by a lockdown on even the nature of the problem. The women's prison is, after all, near a residential community, and surely those neighbors deserve some disclosure about what's happening so close to their homes.
The difficulties faced by state prison officials are anything but virgin territory, and have represented an onerous challenge for more than two decades. In 1984, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the state over overcrowding conditions at both the men's and the women's community correctional facilities. Other complaints included charges that the prisons' inmate medical care, staff training and safety and sanitation standards fell short of the mark.
That led the following year to a federal consent decree requiring federal court supervision of both facilities. Improvements, monitored by a team of experts, progressed far enough at the women's prison that the ACLU case was dismissed in 1998.
So understandably, state officials feel chagrined to confront this latest problem. That doesn't mean they should keep the process under wraps, though. No matter the cause of the investigation — from theft to safety issues — there must be transparency if public trust in the system is to be restored.
Frequently, information about prison operations is released only because inside sources — generally, the inmates themselves — let the word out. One would think that the taxpayers have the right to be as well informed as the prisoners are on this score.