The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has announced a $625,000 dollar settlement in the first case in the country to specifically address the treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth in juvenile facilities.
The settlement ends an ACLU federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of three young people who faced anti-gay and anti-transgender abuse and harassment at the facility by staff and their peers.
“What has happened here in Hawai’i should put juvenile systems nationwide on notice,” said Tamara Lange, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project. “If other states don’t take decisive action to stop anti-gay and anti-transgender abuse and harassment, then they can expect to have to answer for it in court as well.”
Representing a 17-year-old male-to-female transgender girl, an 18-year-old girl who identifies as gay, and an 18-year-old boy perceived to be gay, the ACLU sued Hawaii’s correctional officials last September because the youth had been singled out for mistreatment by staff and harassed by other youth based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and the facility failed to adequately protect them.
In February, a federal judge agreed with the ACLU that conditions at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility (HYCF) are dangerous, that harassment is pervasive, and that the facility is “in a state of chaos.” The court found “a relentless campaign of harassment… that included threats of violence, physical and sexual assault, imposed social isolation, and near constant use of homophobic slurs.”
Issuing a preliminary injunction to put an immediate halt to the culture of abuse at the facility, the court blasted corrections officials for allowing such incidents as the following to take place, referring to LGBT youth, staff routinely used words like “fag,” “butchie,” “fruitcake,” “fucking little bitches,” and “fucking cunts.”
They complained that staff dealt with complaints of harassment by isolating the victims, rather than dealing with the harassers themselves. For example, one transgender ward was placed in solitary confinement for six days, where she spent 23 hours per day under video surveillance with nothing other than her pillow and a blanket, all for her “protection.”
Frightening incidents of physical harassment in the living quarters and showers were reported as inadequately addressed, including one incident in which one ward smeared semen on another ward’s face.
Although incidents of harassment are often reported, the judge found that “…with respect to the vast majority of instances, staff took no action. Even when staff documented incidents, disciplinary measures were either non-existent or were ineffective.”
In the settlement announced today, the state of Hawaii agreed to pay $625,000 to the three plaintiffs, to their attorneys, and to cover the costs of a court-appointed consultant to train staff, help HYCF craft new policies and procedures that will help protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth from harm, and create a functioning grievance system for wards who need to report abuse.
“Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender young people are often abused in their schools, abandoned by their families, and end up on the streets, so it’s no surprise that many of these youth enter the juvenile justice system,” said Lois Perrin, legal director of the ACLU of Hawaii. “Young people who end up in state care should be rehabilitated, fostered, and nurtured, whether they’re gay or straight – not singled out for cruelty and mistreatment because of who they are.”
The ACLU of Hawaii has long been involved in efforts to improve conditions at the youth facility. In 2003, the ACLU issued a 34-page report detailing systemic problems at the facility. A year later, the U.S. Department of Justice also launched an investigation into conditions at HYCF, and on August 4, 2005, released its findings. Like the ACLU, the Department of Justice found widespread violations of the Constitutional rights of juveniles in the facility.
The issue of sexual abuse in correctional settings is in the national spotlight. The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NPREC) has been formed to study the problem, and the commission will report to the president, Congress, and other federal and state officials. At the most recent public NPREC hearing, focused on sexual abuse of juveniles in government custody, held June 1 in Boston, HYCF plaintiff CP and Dr. Robert Bidwell, an expert in the field of adolescent medicine and the treating physician at HYCF, testified. More info can be found at: www.nprec.us.
Recognising that youth often face anti-LGBT harassment and abuse in foster care and out-of-home care, including in juvenile detention and correctional facilities, the Child Welfare League of America recently published best practices guidelines for working with LGBT youth in child welfare and juvenile justice systems.
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