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Direction by youth jail Administrator Mark Patterson raises concerns

By Susan Essoyan; Star-Advertiser; September 3, 2017

Administrator Mark Patterson tools around the sprawling grounds of the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility in a bright blue utility vehicle, his latest purchase in an equipment shopping spree for the ranch he is building.

A big bear of a guy with an easy grin, he pointed to cattle lolling in the foothills of the towering Koolau range in Kailua. These days, he has a lot more cattle than kids under his care.

“I’ve tripled the herd since I came here three years ago,” he declared. “We have a little over 90. One aspect of the  aster plan is to create a vocational training program.”

On that August day, just 21 boys and three girls were confined in the one-story, secured complex, for offenses such as robbery, drug-related cases and probation violations.

The population at the youth jail has plummeted with juvenile justice reform, which diverts minor offenders to intensive monitoring and services in the community rather than locking them up. In the 2017 fiscal year that ended in June, the average daily population at HYCF was 33, including teens on parole, compared to 67 in 2013.

But programs at HYCF that helped these teens uncover the roots of their problems — and develop social skills and tools to manage their addictions and emotions — were dropped shortly after Patterson took over in 2014. And they haven’t been replaced.

That dismays staff members, educators and the national experts who brought the youth jail up to snuff under federal oversight from 2006 to 2010.

“Everybody’s been waiting for a replacement and it hasn’t happened,” said Stacey Oshio, principal of Olomana School, which provides education to incarcerated youth. “It did make a difference in the recidivism rate and it made a difference in the way the students behaved in class.”

She added: “One of the reasons they come to the facility is because they didn’t have those skills. If you don’t address them now, when they return to the ‘outs,’ they don’t have much of a chance.”

Programs discontinued

The programs were put in place as part of a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice that shifted the facility from a punitive to therapeutic model, after an investigation uncovered rampant problems including excessive use of force. The former federal monitor, Russ Van Vleet, said the place was operating “beautifully” under the previous administrator and had harsh words for Patterson’s approach.

“What he’s done is he’s thrown away all the components of the settlement agreement, which are designed to work with troubled youth and help them overcome the issues that brought them there,” said Van Vleet, who is retired and lives in Salt Lake City. “And he’s supplanting that with cattle.”

“For Hawaii to do this after all these years is, frankly, to me, heartbreaking,” added Van Vleet, who no longer has any authority over the facility but has heard from more than a dozen concerned staff members.

Expenditures at the facility have shrunk only slightly in the last few years despite its dwindling population, so per capita spending has soared. The $9.6 million spent in the most recent fiscal year at HYCF comes to $291,000 per incarcerated youth, including parolees. In the 2013 fiscal year, the figures were $10.61 million and $158,000.

But services are worse, observers say. University of Maryland professor Peter Leone, who specializes in education in juvenile institutions and was part of the monitoring team, visited HYCF in April.

“The difference between what existed a few years ago and what exists now is just striking,” he said, referring to the lack of programming outside of school hours. “I was very disappointed.”

Previously, for example, every resident took part in “Seven Challenges,” a holistic, substance-abuse program that is on the federal government’s registry of effective therapies. Correctional officers led group sessions after school, helping kids open up about their often traumatic lives, uncover turning points and learn new ways to respond.

Another program, “Cage the Rage,” took place on Saturdays. Evening and weekend activities and incentives encouraged better behavior. As youth progressed, staff would take them on outings to help prepare for their transition back to society.

“When Mr. Patterson came, he just took everything, all the programs that’s supposed to be for the kids that’s locked up,” Cynthia Hubbell, a youth corrections supervisor, told this reporter during a visit to the facility. “He’s taken our tools from us, everything that we had to kind of help steer the kids in the right direction.”

Seven Challenges cost just $10,000 a year because it required no extra staff, just annual visits by the trainer to assess its implementation and collect data. But Patterson said he thought it wasn’t well managed and he doubted its effectiveness.

“I purposely stopped the Seven Challenges,” he said. “Just because it’s an evidence-based program, it doesn’t mean it works for your population.”

He added that he expects the state Health Department’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division to get something started soon.

Some teens meet with mental health professionals from the Department of Health but that time is limited. Social worker Dolly Wasson said most of the youth have substance-abuse as well as behavior problems and need as much support as they can get.

During a tour of the facility, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser spoke briefly with two teens, who asked for help getting programs and activities.

“Please, because we have nothing to do here but sit down,” one said plaintively. “And when we get bored, we start making trouble because there’s nothing to do.”

Focus on farming

Despite the criticism, Patterson has won public acclaim for his vision for the future of the property. He was selected as 2017 State Manager of the Year, a coveted honor. He envisions “aina-based healing and training programs” for at-risk youth and young adults.

Plans on the drawing board include an assessment center for minors who may be victims of sex trafficking. He also wants to open up a shelter for homeless young adults, ages 18 to 24, who would work at the ranch. Both proposals are still under review, as they target new populations beyond the juveniles committed to his custody by the court.

For now, he is stocking up on farm equipment to tackle overgrown pastures and hopes to win legislative approval to sell beef and produce commercially.

“Every year since I came here, with the savings, I’ve tried to purchase farm equipment, knowing that we are going to expand,” he said.

In June 2016, Patterson submitted a budget request, approved by the Office of Youth Services, to spend $146,918 in unused personnel money on items including a $47,000 dump truck, a $35,000 chipper/mulcher, a $11,000 utility vehicle, a $10,000 rider mower, and $9,500 for a bull and heifers.

That’s on top of a $40,000 tractor, complete with air-conditioned cab, he bought previously, and the newest utility vehicle, a four-seater Kawasaki Mule.

Asked if the incarcerated youth get up to the ranch, Patterson responded: “Very rarely. The No. 1 priority for the youth is school.”

Instead he has brought in some youth on probation to work in a “Roots of Success” agricultural program. “I don’t have the workforce so we are looking for more creative ways to bring people in to help us,” he said.

Priorities questioned

Patterson’s priorities rankle some staff. Hubbell said she has been asking for a year for a replacement to a malfunctioning electronic control panel that would allow staff to pop open all 10 cells in a module at once in case of fire.

“I see all these new vehicles up at the barn and I’m still coping with my broken-­down panel,” she said. “I have these kids’ life in my hands. I just feel upset because I am a mother. I am a grandmother.”

Patterson acknowledges there is “tension” with his staff, saying, “There is always resistance to change.”

“As a new administrator coming in and looking for a better way to manage the facility … as a professional correctional officer, I understand the resistance,” he said. “We resisted a lot of administrators in my time.”

Patterson worked as an adult correctional officer at Oahu Community Correctional Center and Halawa prison before serving as warden at the Women’s Community Correctional Center. This is his first time working with juveniles, which the former federal monitor considers a red flag.

“In my 40 years doing this all over the country, I’ve never seen a warden come from the adult system to operate a juvenile facility,” Van Vleet said. “It just isn’t done.”

Patterson was nominated as manager of the year by Francis Hun, his former supervisor at Halawa, and Merton Chinen, head of the Office of Youth Services.

“As an agent for positive change, Mark has worked tirelessly to foster a framework that embraces culture as a foundation for healing,” they wrote. “He has engaged the community to help HYCF move forward toward a vision of true puuhonua (sanctuary). … Mark’s passion for his job is surpassed only by his desire to improve the lives of all youth and ohana beyond the confines of HYCF.”

Patterson hired Hun, a career correctional officer, as “institutional farm activities leader” and has been flying him to Kona regularly for training in the field.

Squandered time

Liza Nasau, a youth correctional supervisor, would rather see the money go toward proven programs like Seven Challenges. She herself had doubts initially, since previous substance-abuse efforts by contractors had failed to engage the kids.

“At the time, I didn’t believe that any program would work or help these kids with all their deep-rooted issues, but it did,” Nasau said. “I saw a profound change in the youths.”

It even convinced her. “After I read the manual for Seven Challenges, I thought it made sense,” she added. “It made me quit smoking and drinking all at once.”

She laments that time is being squandered for these troubled teens, who spend an average of 271 days incarcerated. That is a rare chance for them to redirect their lives.

“We have no programming for these kids, only Patterson’s church group that comes in and plays games,” Nasau said. “In the meantime, these kids are wasting away in here … and we’re sending them right back out into the community, setting them up for failure.”

The situation has caught the attention of Sen. Jill Tokuda, who represents the Kailua-Kaneohe district.

“It’s one thing to be visionary and to consider new directions and new programs,” she said. “But first and foremost you have an obligation to meet the mandate for your division. And that is to care for the youth that are in the facility. That’s a huge responsibility.

“We don’t want these youth offenders to become adult offenders,” she added. “That is a very difficult mission to meet.”

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