Original story published on Hawaiʻi News Now on June 20, 2022 by Samie Solina, click here to read.

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – For the first time, there are no girls incarcerated at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility — the product of a years-long effort to “divert” kids away from juvenile corrections and into community programs and toward mental health supports.

The last girl to be incarcerated left two weeks ago.

Officials said the decline in girls incarcerated in the Kailua facility dropped 42% from 2018 to 2022.

At the same time, fewer kids overall are at the detention center. HYCF and Kawailoa Youth and Family Wellness Center Administrator Mark Patterson said back in 2014 — before significant reform — there were well over 100 youth incarcerated at the facility. Today, there are about 15.

He added that girls, especially, were coming to HYCF with “the most severe trauma.

“What is needed to keep them out of the punitive model,” he said.

Patterson says the success was made possibly thanks to collaboration with other groups, support from the state Legislature, and important changes such as the decriminalization of prostitution for minors.

“We’re trying to create a continuity of trauma-informed care throughout our programs to meet each child at the level that they’re at in dealing with these issues,” Patterson said.

“So that there’s support for them in order to create meaningful off-ramps or out of the system exits.”

Patterson said efforts to reform the juvenile system in Hawaii gained momentum nearly a decade ago.

In 2018, the facility teamed up with the Vera Institute, a nonprofit working toward criminal justice reform. They started an assessment to find out who was ending up in facilities.

“The biggest takeaway was that overwhelmingly, the girls who were coming into Hawaii’s U.S. legal system are coming in on really low-level charges,” said Hannah Green, a program manager for the Vera Institute of Justice’s Initiative to End Girls’ Incarceration.

“It’s concerning for their safety, not public safety, that tends to be driving decisions to confine them.”

Green agrees with Patterson that getting to youth and identifying patterns early is key.

According to Kawailoa, most children who end up at HYCF have “experienced trauma in their homes due to poverty, houselessness, abuse, and victimization, as well as drug addiction and mental health issues.”

“It’s about how can systems collaborate and work together to position interventions earlier, and to make sure that we’re responding with healing and support instead of punishment,” said Green.

Shawn Kanaʻiaupuni, president and CEO of Partners in Development Foundation, oversees programs to help at-risk youth. Her organization works with Opportunity Youth Action Hawaii Hui to focus on causes that make children susceptible to justice entanglement.

“This news is a good sign in that we are moving in the right direction,” said Kanaʻiaupuni.

“Research has shown that locking up youth in prison cells produces more re-offenses and a higher likelihood of ending up in adult prisons.”

They point out that incarceration is just part of the system and more work needs to be done.