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Advances in Juvenile Justice Reform: Conditions of Confinement

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  • California Requires Incarcerated Individuals under the Age of 22 be Considered for a Lower Security Level Placement
    Assembly Bill 1276 requires the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to conduct individual assessments of every person under the age of 22 who is entering state prisons and to consider placing these youth at a lower security level than corresponds with their classification level and in a facility that permits increased access to rehabilitation programs. Previously, youth under the age of 22 were routinely sent to the highest security prison yards, known as “level IV” yards. The legislation also allows youth who did not qualify for a lower security level to have their placement reconsidered at their annual review until the age of 25. Assembly Bill 1276 was authored by Assembly Member Richard Bloom, with principal co-author Senator Hancock, sponsored by Human Rights Watch and co-sponsored by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office and the Anti-Recidivism Coalition. A.B. 1276 was signed into law on September 26, 2014.


  • Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice and ACLU Reach Settlement Agreement Regarding Conditions in Youth Facilities: Following a class-action lawsuit on behalf of nearly 1,000 youth filed by the ACLU of Illinois in September 2012, the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) agreed to develop a remedial plan to address inadequate and dangerous conditions in state-run juvenile justice facilities across the state. An ACLU investigation found inadequate mental health care and education services, unwarranted use of solitary confinement, use of excessive force by DJJ staff and among youth, and failure to release youth from prison solely because of a lack of community placement. Following further investigation conducted by three independent court-appointed experts, a remedial plan was approved by the court. The plan addresses improving conditions in five areas: (1) mental health services; (2) educational services, including general education, special education, and services for youth with a high school diploma or a GED; (3) the use of room confinement; (4) safety of young people inside the facilities from violence by staff and other youth; and (5) continued commitment of youth beyond their release dates solely for lack of a community placement. case no. 12-cv-07289, R.J. v. Jones, formerly R.J. v. Bishop, consent decree signed December 6, 2012; remedial plan filed April 7, 4014.
  • Nevada Limits Use of Solitary Confinement: Nevada restricted the use of solitary confinement of youth in detention facilities statewide and banned the use of isolation as discipline or punishment. Youth may be held in solitary confinement only if they present a serious and immediate risk of harm to themselves or others and all other options have been exhausted, and the length of their confinement must be the minimum amount required to address the risk of harm. S.B. 107/Act No. 324, signed into law June 1, 2013; effective October 1, 2013.
  • New York — Local Correctional Facilities Encouraged to Seek Parental Consent for Medical Treatment for Youth: New York passed an amendment to encourage local correctional facilities to inquire whether parents or guardians of youth under the age of eighteen committed to their facility will grant their child the capacity to consent to routine medical, dental, and mental health services and treatment. Previously, correctional facilities were authorized to administer such services to such youth without parental consent and they are still authorized to do so where no medical consent is obtained prior to commitment. However, the youth’s parent or guardian may bring legal proceedings objecting to such treatment if the youth is not yet eighteen years old. A. 5008/Act No. 437 , signed into law and effective October 23, 2013.
  • Rhode Island Training School Reduces Maximum Time Youth Can Be Confined in their Rooms: In response to a 2011 assessment of the Rhode Island Training School’s compliance with Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) standards for conditions of confinement, the Department of Children, Youth and Families amended its policy regarding the maximum time youth at the facility can be confined to their rooms. The maximum period was reduced from five to three days in order to comply with JDAI standards.

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  • Arizona Law Prohibits the Use of Restraints on Pregnant Women in Prison: A new Arizona law prohibits the use of restraints on women who are pregnant and in prison or detention. Restraints may be used only if requested by medical staff, or in extraordinary circumstances. If restraints are used, they must be used in the least restrictive manner possible, and corrections officials must write a report detailing the reasons why restraints were used. Both juvenile detention centers and juvenile correctional facilities must adopt policies pursuant to the new law. S.B. 1184/Act No. 43, signed into law March 20, 2012; effective March 20, 2012 and April 20, 2012.
  • Arizona Expands Education Opportunities for Committed Youth: The Arizona State Legislature amended state law to require an appropriate education plan for youth committed to the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections (ADJC) or who are supervised in the community. ADJC may assign a youth to a specific public or private educational program, if it is in the best interest of the youth and the community. S.B. 1037/Act No. 354, signed into law May 14, 2012; effective August 2, 2012.
  • California — Law Curbs Use of Restraints on Women in Labor in Prison
    The California legislature amended the penal code to prohibit restraint by the use of leg irons, waist chains, or handcuffs behind the body of a woman who is incarcerated and is pregnant, is in labor, in recovery, or has recently given birth. Such restraint may only be used when deemed necessary for the safety and security of the woman, staff, or the public. The law also requires that women who are incarcerated be advised of these standards orally or in writing. A.B. 2530/Act No. 726, signed into law September 28, 2012. 
  • Florida Bans Use of Restraints on Incarcerated Pregnant Women: Citing the risks to women and pregnancy and the fact that the vast majority of women who are incarcerated in Florida have committed non-violent offenses, state law now prohibits the use of restraints on a pregnant woman who is incarcerated during labor, delivery, and postpartum recovery. There is an exception for extraordinary circumstances, including substantial risk of flight or injury to medical staff, corrections personnel, or the woman herself. Additionally, the use of restraints is prohibited during the third trimester unless there are documented security risks that require the use of restraints. Any woman who is restrained in violation of the law may file a grievance. All correctional institutions must inform women of the rules upon entry, in the prisoner handbook, and by posting the policies and practices on the walls in visible areas. S.B. 524/Act No. 2012-41, signed into law April 6, 2012; effective July 1, 2012.
  • Louisiana Legislature Aims to Improve Education for Committed Youth: Recognizing that education is one of the most important aspects of rehabilitation, Louisiana established a policy to help ensure all youth committed to the Department of Public Safety and Corrections receive a quality education. All youth must be assessed using a research-based diagnostic tool within 30 days of placement to a secure facility. The department will use this assessment to develop an academic plan and timetable to improve the youth’s reading ability, bring the child up to grade level, or help the youth prepare for a high school diploma, GED, or a certificate of achievement from the Special School District. S.B. 156/Act No. 629, signed into law and effective June 7, 2012.
  • Louisiana Legislature Strengthens Licensing Requirements for Juvenile Detention Facilities: Louisiana amended the licensing provisions for juvenile detention facilities, establishing penalties for operating a facility without a valid license and allowing the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) to develop a corrective action plan for facilities in violation of detention standards. Facilities that violate licensing standards may be fined or be subject to an injunction against any illegal or unsafe operations. Any fines collected will go into the newly established “Juvenile Detention Licensing Fund,” which will fund education and training of employees, staff, or other personnel at youth facilities. H.B. 982/Act No. 814, signed into law June 13, 2012; effective January 1, 2013.
  • Rhode Island Training School Expands Protections Against Use of Restraints on Pregnant Girls: The Department of Children, Youth and Families expanded an agency policy prohibiting the use of mechanical restraints on pregnant girls at the Rhode Island Training School. The new policy includes more detailed guidelines and new protections for pregnant and post-partum girls, requiring removal of restraints upon the request of medical personnel in emergency or urgent situations. When medical personnel request removal of restraints in non-urgent situations, Training School staff must seek guidance from a supervisor. The new policy requires that all girls be notified of the policy upon admission to the facility. The policy includes an exception allowing the use of restraints if a girl is determined to be a danger to herself or others, or poses a risk of flight that cannot be addressed by other means. Policy 1200.0832, October 2, 2012.

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  • Arizona — State Criminalizes Unlawful Sexual Conduct of Juvenile Court Employees: A new Arizona law extends to all incarcerated youth the protections of an existing law that makes it a felony to sexually exploit an individual in correctional custody. In Arizona, a correctional facility employee commits unlawful sexual conduct by intentionally or knowingly engaging in an act of sexual nature with a prisoner by either threatening to negatively influence the prisoner’s supervision or release status, or offering to positively influence the prisoner’s supervision or release status through the custody of the Arizona Department of Corrections, the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections, a private prison facility, a city or county jail, or an offender who is under their supervision. This provision also applies to contract employees, visitors, volunteers, or agency representatives. However, until recently, the law did not apply to juvenile detention facilities, adult probation officers, or juvenile court employees. The legislation establishes the offense and classifies the acts as felonies. It also specifies that making a false report or coercing someone to make a false report of unlawful sexual conduct is a misdemeanor offense. S.B. 1130/Ch. 226, signed into law April 25, 2011; effective July 20, 2011.
  • Connecticut — Youth Gain Prompter Access to Temporary Leave from Facilities: The Connecticut General Assembly waived the 60-day waiting period for a youth to be granted leave after his or her placement changes. Prior to this, youth could not apply for leave from a juvenile facility or residential placement to attend events such as a family gathering. The legislature also eliminated the one-year mandatory minimum stay at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School, allowing youth to be sentenced to shorter stays. H.B. 6636/Public Act 11-156, signed into law July 8, 2011; effective October 1, 2011.
  • District of Columbia — D.C. Continues Progress Toward Ending Court Oversight of City’s Juvenile Justice System: In 1985, the Jerry M. class-action lawsuit was filed against the District of Columbia in D.C. Superior Court, alleging violations of health and safety standards in the District’s juvenile justice system (the case was settled via consent decree in 1986). In 2008, after 22 years of court supervision, the District and plaintiffs agreed upon a work plan with twelve goals that, once completed, would remove the District from court oversight. In 2011, the court vacated as complete three important goals under the work plan: 1) hold only detained youth at the Youth Services Center (the District’s facility for pre-trial detained youth); 2) substantially improve educational programming for youth held at the New Beginnings Youth Development Center; and 3) provide consistent daily exercise for youth detained at the Youth Services Center or confined at New Beginnings.
  • Kansas — Sedgwick County Eliminates Use of Restraint Chairs in Detention: The Sedgwick County Department of Corrections ended the use of restraint chairs in its juvenile detention facility in October 2011. The change was made after county officials consulted current best practices in the field and conducted a close review of the department’s use of restraint practices and isolation. The review revealed that use of restraints, restraint chairs, and isolation was declining due, in part, to staff training in evidence-based practices, crisis intervention stress management debriefing with residents, staff debriefing of critical incidents, closer monitoring by supervisors, use of specialized case plans with youth experiencing mental health issues, and enhanced programming time for residents. Due to the department’s declining use of restraint chairs and a national movement away from overuse of restraints, the Department of Corrections phased out the use of restraint chairs in juvenile detention.
  • Louisiana — State Establishes Standards for Juvenile Detention Facilities: Detention reform in Louisiana passed another milestone in July 2011, when the Task Force on Juvenile Detention Center Standards submitted a final draft of proposed standards to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). The task force was created by legislation passed in 2010 (H.B. 1477/Act 863, signed into law June 30, 2010; effective August 15, 2010). The standards—informed by the MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change initiative—end the use of restraint chairs and chemical restraints such as pepper spray in facilities; mandate that staff receive increased training, including on best practices for working with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth; address access to required educational and other services; and create procedures for reporting complaints. Final standards were promulgated January 31, 2012, with all facilities to be licensed and in compliance by the end of 2013.
  • Mississippi — Forrest County Settles Lawsuit on Conditions and Access: A class-action lawsuit against Forrest County, Mississippi challenged excessive shackling, physical abuse, filthy conditions, and overcrowding at the Forrest County Juvenile Detention Center. The lawsuit also challenged the facility’s denial of access to the federally authorized Protection and Advocacy (P&A) organization for Mississippi; under federal law, P&A organizations have a right to enter facilities, interview youth, and assess conditions. The consent decree regarding conditions addresses intake procedures, staffing and overcrowding, cell confinement, structured programming, disciplinary practices and procedures, use of restraints, use of force, meals and nutrition, clothing, hygiene and sanitation, medical care, mental health care, suicide prevention, family support and interaction, and monitoring. M.T., et al. v. Forrest County, Mississippi, Case No. 2:11-cv-91 KS-MTP (S.D. Miss.) Consent decree related to access: April 2011; consent decree related to conditions: October 12, 2011.
  • Missouri — Judiciary Creates Detention Standards Workgroup: The Missouri judiciary established a workgroup to review current standards for services given to youth placed in detention and recommend changes for improvement. The workgroup must examine all aspects concerning the placement of youth in secure and non-secure detention facilities, including, but not limited to, facility operations, programming, budgeting, and staffing. The judiciary has not reviewed the standards since 1991.
  • Vermont — State Improves Conditions at Juvenile Detention Center: Between 2007 and 2011, Vermont’s Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center’s Detention Unit improved its conditions of confinement and services to youth, including provision of adequate heat and air conditioning, cleaning services, special education services, mental health treatment, and case management coordination, as well as decreases in the use of seclusion and restraint. Additionally, Woodside currently shares copies of all use-of-force reports with Vermont’s federally authorized Protection and Advocacy organization. The facility implemented the changes after five years of advocacy efforts to improve conditions at the facility.

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  • California — Corrections Standards Authority Must Inspect Facilities Where Juveniles Are Held for More than 24 Hours: A new California law requires the Corrections Standards Authority to inspect and collect relevant data from any facility that may be used for the secure detention of minors. The law aims to ensure that the state complies with the monitoring requirements of the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. S.B. 1447/Ch. 157, signed into law August 18, 2010; effective January 1, 2011.
  • Colorado — State Law Explicitly Prohibits Staff Sexual Contact with Youth in Juvenile Facilities: State law now protects both youth and adults in Colorado from sexual abuse and exploitation while confined. Prior law prohibited a correctional employee or volunteer in an adult criminal justice facility from engaging in sexual activity with an inmate; but youth in detention or commitment facilities were not explicitly protected under the law. H.B. 1277/Ch. 262, signed into law May 25, 2010; effective July 1, 2010.
  • Florida — Department of Juvenile Justice to Ensure Effective Delivery of Health Services for Youth in Custody: The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) must adopt rules to ensure the effective provision of health services to youth in facilities or programs operated or contracted by DJJ. The rules must address ordinary medical care, mental health services, substance abuse treatment services, and services to youth with developmental disabilities. The change was spurred on by the death of a youth in detention from appendicitis, as well as the recommendations of the Florida Blueprint Commission. S.B. 1012/Ch. 123, signed into law May 27, 2010; effective July 1, 2010.
  • Louisiana — Consent Decrees Aim to Improve Conditions at Orleans Parish Detention Center: In February 2010, two consent decrees were finalized regarding conditions of confinement and education at New Orleans’ juvenile detention center, the Youth Study Center. The consent decrees were filed in October 2009 following twenty-two months of negotiations after a class-action lawsuit was filed in December 2007. The lawsuit included allegations of locked fire doors with no available keys, insects and rodents biting youth, children with serious conditions being denied their medication, and suicidal youth not receiving mental health services. The consent decrees’ provisions include increased staffing for the Youth Study Center; increased training of all staff on such issues as suicide prevention, behavior, and classroom management; improved healthcare, including prohibiting staff from denying medical care to youth and increased medical and mental health staffing; increased focus on programming, education, and physical recreation; and an increase of one social worker per unit.
  • Mississippi — Legislature Expands Authority of Juvenile Detention Monitoring Unit: The Mississippi State Legislature expanded the authority of the state’s juvenile detention monitoring unit, which is now responsible for investigating, evaluating, and securing the rights of youth held in juvenile justice facilities, including detention centers, training schools, and group homes, in order to ensure that the facilities operate in compliance with national best practices and state and federal law. The law includes standards for conducting facility-based investigations and a complaint process. The monitoring unit must submit quarterly reports on its investigations. S.B. 2950/Ch. 543, signed into law April 27, 2010; effective July 1, 2010.
  • Mississippi — Lauderdale County Settles Lawsuit over Abusive Conditions at Detention Center: Lauderdale County, Mississippi settled a class-action lawsuit that alleged abusive conditions at the Lauderdale Juvenile Detention Center. Youth at the detention center endured physical and mental abuse as they were crammed into small, filthy cells and sprayed with pepper spray for even minor infractions. Most of the youth were allowed to leave their cells for only one or two hours a day. Many had mental illnesses or learning disabilities. The agreement ensures that youth at the detention center can no longer be locked in cells all day; ends the indiscriminate use of pepper spray and mace; requires clean and sanitary conditions; mandates health and mental health screening and treatment; requires adequate educational, rehabilitative, and recreational programs; and ends the use of a chair with mechanical restraints. The settlement additionally establishes the Juvenile Justice Community Advisory Board, which will seek input about court and facility operations from currently and formerly imprisoned youth, and tour the facility regularly. E.W. v. Lauderdale County, Case No. 4:09-cv-137 TSL-LRA (S.D. Miss.), April 30, 2010.
  • New Hampshire — State Limits Use of Child Restraint Practices: Schools and juvenile facilities in New Hampshire may no longer use physical restraints or containment techniques that could endanger a youth, use chemical restraints, intentionally inflict pain on a child, or unnecessarily subject youth to ridicule, humiliation, or emotional trauma. Restraints may never be used “explicitly or implicitly” as punishment for a youth’s behavior. The law also establishes procedures for notice and record keeping on the use of restraints and review of restraint use by both the Department of Education and the Department of Health. Lastly, the law limits the use of mechanical restraints during transport and in the courtroom. S.B. 396/Ch. 375, signed into law July 26, 2010; effective July 26, 2010 and September 1, 2010.
  • New York — New York City Council Passes Incident Reporting Law: The New York City Council mandated that the New York City Division of Youth and Family Justice (DYFJ) collect and make public data on injuries to youth in non-secure and secure detention, demographic data of youth in detention, and child abuse reports for youth in detention. The reports provide invaluable new data on the care and treatment of youth in detention. DYFJ must submit the injury reports quarterly; the demographic and child abuse reports must be submitted annually. The Administration for Children’s Services posts the data on the statistics section of its website. Introductions 153-A and 37-A, enacted May 18, 2010.
  • New York — Office of Children and Family Services and U.S. Department of Justice Reach Settlement on Facility Conditions: A settlement agreement between the New York Office of Children and Family Services and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) applies to conditions at four New York facilities: Finger Lakes Residential Center (formerly known as the Louis Gossett, Jr. Residential Center), Lansing Residential Center, Tryon Residential Center, and Tryon Girls Center (the Tryon Residential Center and Tryon Girls Center have closed since the settlement). DOJ initiated a CRIPA (Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act) investigation of the facilities in 2008, which found use of excessive force and inappropriate restraints, and failure to provide adequate mental health care and treatment. The settlement agreement includes provisions on use of restraints, use of force, reporting and investigation of incidents, use of psychotropic medications, treatment planning, substance abuse treatment, transition planning, quality assurance, and monitoring. United States v. New York, July 14, 2010.
  • New York — Manhattan Judge Finds Shackling of Juveniles Illegal: A ruling from the New York State Supreme Court repealed the state’s Office of Children and Family Services’ shackling policy that had been in place since 1996. According to the decision, the current policy requiring shackling of any child in custody being transported between state facilities or from a facility to anywhere else violates state law, which allows shackling of only dangerous youth as a last resort, and only for up to half an hour. John F. v. Gladys Carrion, January 25, 2010.
  • Wyoming — State Develops Juvenile Detention Facility Standards: Wyoming law now requires sheriffs to develop and implement uniform standards for juvenile detention facilities, with consideration of nationally-recognized criteria. Starting in March 2013, youth may not be detained in a secure juvenile detention facility unless the facility has adopted the standards. The sheriffs must report to the legislature on the development and implementation of the standards by November 15, 2012. S.F.O. 9/Ch. 21, signed into law March 4, 2010; effective July 1, 2010/March 31, 2013.

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  • Arizona — Supreme Court Adopts Juvenile Detention Standards: The Arizona Supreme Court developed detailed juvenile detention standards to be followed by all Arizona juvenile courts. The standards cover a wide array of topics, including personnel, monitoring, risk assessments, academic services, health services, recreation, juvenile rights, restraints, food services, and facility design. Implementation of the standards in 2010 has led to six operational reviews and improvements to policies, practices, and services provided to detained youth. Positive changes include reduction in the time frame for requesting educational and medical records; improved staffing ratios; officer training; collaborations with community agencies to improve medical and behavioral health services; development and improvement of positive reinforcement-based behavior management systems; and improvements in direct supervision of youth.
  • Arkansas — Legislature Mandates New Education System for Youth Residential Facilities: Finding the current education program of the Arkansas Division of Youth Services (DYS) “lacking,” the General Assembly passed a law that requires the Arkansas Department of Education to establish guidelines for and monitor DYS’ education system for youth in its residential facilities. The law requires that students enrolled in the DYS education system receive transferable credits and mandates that all teachers within the DYS education system be appropriately licensed and compensated. The legislation—finding changes to be immediately necessary so that youth housed in DYS facilities receive “a suitable education”—includes an emergency clause making the law effective upon final approval from the governor. H.B. 1932/Act 972, signed into law and effective April 6, 2009.
  • Arkansas — State Requires Detailed Treatment Plans for Committed Youth: The Arkansas Division of Youth Services must now file with the court a treatment plan for all committed youth no later than 30 days from the commitment order or before the youth’s release, whichever is sooner. Treatment plans must detail the type of programs and services to be provided to the youth; state the anticipated length of commitment; include recommendations as to the most appropriate post-commitment placement for the youth; detail any post-commitment community-based services that will be offered to the youth and his or her family; and outline an aftercare plan. S.B. 776/Act 956, signed into law and effective April 6, 2009.
  • Hawaii — Officials Gain Authority to Investigate Incidents at Youth Facilities: The Hawaii State Legislature authorized the Director of Human Services to appoint investigators to examine incidents at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility (HYCF), and gave these investigators access to necessary information maintained by state and county entities. The investigations cover incidents of use of force, staff-onyouth violence, serious youth-on-youth violence, inappropriate staff relationships with youth, sexual misconduct between youth, and abusive institutional practices at HYCF. Prior to the law, Hawaii had already moved toward improving the conditions of confinement at HYCF due to a 2004 U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation spurred by complaints from an incarcerated youth to the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii. In 2006, a detailed memorandum of agreement was executed between the United States and the State of Hawaii, which covered constitutionally required care; substantive remedial measures; compliance and quality improvement; monitoring and enforcement; and reporting requirements and right of access. DOJ closed its investigation in May 2011. The new law in Hawaii now creates clearer state government oversight of HYCF. H.B. 1101/Act 62, signed into law May 18, 2009; effective July 1, 2009.
  • Mississippi — Harrison County Commits to Improving Detention Center Conditions: Harrison County, Mississippi settled a federal class-action lawsuit that sought to end the physical abuse of youth, denial of mental health care for suicidal youth, and other unconstitutional conditions in the Harrison County Juvenile Detention Center. Youth at the detention center were forced to endure shackling, physical assaults by staff, confinement to vermin-infested cells, and overcrowded, unsanitary conditions that resulted in widespread contraction of scabies and staph infections. The detention center also failed to provide youth with adequate medical and mental health care during their confinement. The settlement addresses overcrowding, cell confinement, use of restraints, use of force, suicide prevention, hygiene and sanitation, and staff training. D.W. v. Harrison County, Case No. 1:09-cv-267 LG-RHN (S.D. Miss.), June 24, 2009.
  • New York — New York City Requires Department of Corrections to Collect Data on Adolescents in City Jails: In response to the fatal beating of a youth on Rikers Island, the New York City Council passed a bill that requires the Department of Corrections to collect data on adolescents in city jails. Rikers Island houses nearly 900 youth between 16 and 18 years old. Several allegations of criminal acts against adolescent inmates were exposed following the fatal beating of Christopher Robinson in 2008. The security-related data being gathered includes, among other indicators, the number of stabbings/slashings and fights resulting in serious injury, number of attempted suicides, and incidents of sexual assault. Int. 0937-2009/Law 2009/029, signed into law May 11, 2009; effective July 1, 2009.

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Hawaii Officials Gain Authority to Investigate Incidents at Youth Facilities, H.B. 1101