The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Hawaii [advocacy website] has filed a complaint [text, PDF] with the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website], stating that overcrowding in the state correctional facilities is resulting in violations of the prisoners’ Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The complaint, filed Friday, shows that there is overcrowding in seven out of the nine correctional centers owned and operated by Hawaii. These seven facilities are at between 121 and 203 percent of capacity in terms of head count. The overcrowding is allegedly resulting in inmates not being given adequate safe shelter, protection from harm, sanitation, food, and medical and mental health care. The ACLU argues this violates the inmates’ Eighth Amendment rights by depriving them of “minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities in a manner that is objectively, sufficiently serious” and “prison officials act with deliberate indifference to inmates’ safety.” The ACLU also contends the Fourteenth Amendment rights of the many pre-trial detainees who are also housed in these facilities are being violated as well. Instead of increasing the capacity of the facilities, ACLU of Hawaii has suggested [press release] that Hawaii instead take efforts to decrease the number of prisoners by decreasing the pre-trial detainees who are held at the facilities for not being able to pay bail, and by passing reforms that decrease the number of people in prison, as was done in Alaska, New Jersey, California, Utah and Oklahoma.
The treatment of prisoners and prison reform [JURIST podcast] has been a growing concern in the US for years. In February the California Supreme Court ruled [JURIST report] that the state governor’s plan for prison overcrowding could be placed on the state ballot. In January 2015 the US Supreme Court ruled that a landmark decision banning mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles should apply retroactively [JURIST report]. A federal court in February 2015 approved [JURIST report] a settlement agreement between the Arizona Department of Corrections and the ACLU in a class action lawsuit over the health care system within Arizona prisons. Also in February 2015 rights group Equal Justice Under Law filed suit [JURIST report] against the cities of Ferguson and Jennings, Missouri, for their practice of jailing citizens who fail to pay debts owed to the city for minor offenses and traffic tickets. The ACLU and the ACLU of Texas released a report in 2014 exposing [JURIST report] the results of a multi-year investigation into conditions at five Criminal Alien Requirement prisons in Texas.