Changes at Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Changes at Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility

KAILUA (HawaiiNewsNow) - Police are searching for two teenagers who slipped away from the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility. These are the first two escapes of the year from the institution, according to authorities. A spokesperson for the Department of Human Services said there were four escapes in 2013. All of them happened while the youth were outside the institution.

"Whenever you have any type of escape from any institution like a correctional facility, there has to be concern in terms of the public's safety and why and how these individuals escaped," said State Sen. Will Espero, chair of the Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs Committee.

There are currently 53 youth offenders in state custody. 38 are at the facility and 15 are committed but on parole.

"At this age, these individuals have a better chance at rehabilitation and improving their lives. That's what this facility was all about," Espero said.

Seven of 76 youth corrections officer positions are vacant, but visitations haven't been canceled for the past two years, according to DHS. The agency said the projected overtime for fiscal year 2014 is roughly $1 million dollars. The facility made changes after complaints about violence, abusive practices, and sexual misconduct led to federal oversight from 2006 to May 2011.

"The federal government did have to step in and the state was mandated to make some improvements, and we're still in the process of improving those improvements themselves," said Espero.

The department estimates that staff must now restrain youth two to three times a week. There were also 14 self-injury reports in the last six months, but the agency said none of the incidents would be classified as a serious suicide attempt. The state pays nearly $200,000 per youth per year. The department is looking at reducing the number of offenders at the facility to save money.

"There's room for reform where we can put more youth into community-based programs and services and facilities," explained Espero.

A bill advancing at the legislature would limit bed space to the most serious offenders. House Bill 2490 SD1 would also create an oversight committee to improve juvenile justice practices.

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