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Juvenile Corrections Reform in Hawai’i

This is an introduction to Hawaii’s youth correctional system. Hawaii’s history of abuse and mismanagement of its youth institutions dates to the mid-19th century.

Following the 1778 arrival of Captain James Cook, European and American settlers gained and eventually dominated economic and political power in Hawai’i. The ascendance of western economic, political, and legal concepts is evident in the State’s juvenile justice system.

Hawaii’s Industrial School

Established in 1865 on the island of O’ahu, Hawaii’s first youth institution, the Hawai’i Industrial School, housed youth as young as six-years-old. The Industrial School operated under the European doctrine of Parens Patriae, allowing the state to exert parental authority over youth when the natural parents were deemed unworthy.

The Industrial School model was western society’s response to the belief that segregation in an institutional setting was the most effective way to address the needs of neglected and delinquent youth. Major characteristics of this congregate-care facility included strict regimentation, harsh punishment, unequal treatment for boys and girls, a poor education system, and an emphasis on work. The facility was plagued by violence and exploitation. These problems became common to all subsequent facilities throughout the 20th century.

Find out more and obtain your copy of Criminalization of Hawaiian Youth: The Legacy of Hawaii’s Industrial School by CJCJ’s Daniel Macallair, Kate McCracken, Sarah Vickers, and Emily Luhrs. 

Hawaii’s Youth Correctional Facility

In 1961, a new era in Hawai’i youth correctional history began with the establishment of the Hawai’i Youth Correctional Facility (HYCF). The HYCF is located in Kailua, on the island of O’ahu and housed male and female youths. Consistent problems plagued this facility, including issues surrounding staffing, training, abuse, and excessive use of force. Watch this film to learn more.

In 1988, following a series of damning reports regarding violent conditions and overcrowding at the HYCF, the Western Regional Office of the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives (now CJCJ), was contracted by the Hawai’i Department of Corrections to conduct an analysis of the state’s youth correctional system and develop recommendations for reform.

Following the 6‑month project in 1989, Hawai’i state officials adopted CJCJ’s recommendation to reduce the institutional population in favor of a small 30-bed secure facility and a range of community-based programs. However, implementation of this recommendation did not transpire.

For the full study read Public Safety with Care.

The following year CJCJ Executive Director Daniel Macallair returned to Hawaii to establish the Hawai’i Youth Advocacy Project (YAP) — a model accelerated parole and reentry program at the Hawai’i Youth Correctional Facility (HYCF). The project utilized an intensive case management system to develop appropriate community-based placements for youth release from the facility. By the time the project ended, the HYCF’s population declined from 82 to 32 youth – the lowest level in the facility’s history. In addition, the Hawaii State Legislature allocated $500,000 to expand community-based services, in response to independent experts’ recommendations.

During the reduction of the HYCF population, Macallair and his YAP staff were criticized by those within the system for adopting a vigorous and aggressive approach to accelerating the release of youth from the facility. However, later on, the project’s aggressive strategy was recognized by Wayne Matsuo, the director of Hawaii’s Office of Youth Services as an essential catalyst in promoting overall reform of Hawaii’s juvenile corrections system.

Matsuo proved to be a formidable champion of juvenile justice reform in Hawai’i and under his leadership a new but much smaller Hawai’i Youth Correctional Facility was constructed and the range of community-based programs expanded. Matsuo’s efforts to improve the life chances of youth in Hawaii’s juvenile justice system ended with his untimely death in the 1994. However, his work to recreate Hawaii’s decrepit youth corrections system during his brief tenure established him as one of America’s leading juvenile justice reformers.

CJCJ staff is honored to have played a role in efforts to reform Hawaii’s youth corrections system. For more information, read Reforming Hawaii’s Juvenile Correctional System: Program Recommendations to the Hawai’i Legislature.

View CJCJ materials on this topic »