Judge Blasts Hawaii Juvenile Detention Facility for Pervasive Harassment of Gay and Transgender Youth

Sep 29, 2006
ACLU of Northern California

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ACLU of Northern CA

In a victory for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth, the ACLU obtained a preliminary injunction requiring the Hawaii Youth Correction Facility to establish policies and procedures to prevent abuse of LGBT youth in their custody

This marks the first time a case has specifically addressed LGBT youth in juvenile facilities.

Citing an extensive and chilling list of incidents, U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright found that Hawaii's Office of Youth Services and HYCF officials ignored and even participated in an atmosphere of anti-gay harassment, humiliation, and fear.  He ordered the facility to implement new policies and procedures and to provide staff with training to avoid future harassment of LGBT youth.

ACLU-NC attorney Tamara Lange, working with the ACLU of Hawaii and attorneys from the San Francisco and Los Angeles offices of Morrison & Foerster, represents three young people: 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 youths described harassment by staff, as well as incidents in which the facility did nothing to shield them from abuse by other facility residents. Both the transgender girl and the boy were "protected" by being forced to spend up to a week at a time in solitary confinement, given nothing more than a pillow and blanket. Staff routinely use slurs to refer to youth who are, or are perceived to be, gay, lesbian, or transgender, calling them names like "fag," "butchie," and "fruitcake."

Although incidents of harassment are often reported, as Judge Seabright stated, "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."

"While the conditions at HYCF are particularly bad," said ACLU-NC attorney Tamara Lange, "this should serve as a wake-up call to juvenile justice systems throughout the U.S."

The ACLU of Hawaii has long been involved in efforts to improve conditions at HYCF.  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, policies, and practices at HYCF. In its findings, released in August 2005, the Department of Justice found widespread violations of the Constitutional rights of juveniles in the facility, as had the ACLU.

Recognizing 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 will publish best practices guidelines for working with LGBT youth in child welfare and juvenile justice systems.