Lawmakers review proposal to revamp Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility

(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

KAILUA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Big changes may be ahead for the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility as legislators make last-minute adjustments to Governor David Ige's bill.

The proposal is designed to revitalize the property by creating the Kawailoa Youth and Family Wellness Center. The center would include a low-security mental health treatment program, homeless shelter for youth ages 18-24, and an assessment center for young sex trafficking victims.

"They get to come in here, [with a] very, very low barrier, not a lot of questions asked, and just kind of get a sense of who they are again and start to rebuild their life in a safe, positive environment," explained Carla Houser, executive director of Residential Youth Services and Empowerment.

RYSE will operate the homeless shelter and another group will run the assessment center in exchange for space at the Windward Oahu facility.

"Let's try this, let's pilot this for three years and if it's successful, let's maintain it and ... replicate it throughout the state of Hawaii," said HYCF administrator Mark Patterson.

The Hawaii Youth correctional Facility's population has declined in the last decade, from more than 100 — to about 23. Most of the youth are incarcerated because of drugs or drug-related offenses such as theft.

Several community organizations support the plan.

"Given the many needs there are, families and youth will be more than willing to take advantage of the services," said Judith Clark, executive director of Hawaii Youth Services Network.

But other groups that work with troubled youth are skeptical.

"I was concerned about institutionalizing kids all over again and putting them back at HYCF which is known for a lot of the bad kids," said Deborah Spencer-Chun, CEO of Adult Friends for Youth. "And we really want to be able to put our kids into communities and integrate them."

The principal of Olomana School, which provides all of HYCF's educational services, worries adding programs might shortchange the youth already there.

"While I think it's a great idea that we reach out to these other populations, maybe a little overreach might be happening at the moment because the current population might not being serviced as well as it could be," said Stacey Oshio.

State lawmakers are still working on Senate Bill 2791 in conference committee.

Lawmakers have set aside in the state budget $100,000 for planning, as well as $100,000 for security fencing around the homeless shelter and assessment center.

If legislators approve the bill, Patterson hopes to have the new wellness center complete in eight years.

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