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“A Correctional Center Becomes a Puʻuhonua”

Original story posted by Ka Wai Ola News, kawaiola.news/hoonaauao/a-correctional-center-becomes-a-puuhonua/

By Oha Public Policy Staff on Jan. 1, 2021

Nestled at the foot of Olomana in Maunawili in the ahupuaʻa of Kailua, on a verdant, sweeping property dotted with slumbering cattle, is the Hawaiʻi Youth Correctional Facility (HYCF). It is an unusually tranquil setting for a juvenile correctional center, but HYCF Administrator Mark Kawika Patterson sees it as a perfect puʻuhonua – a place of healing.

After nearly 100 years in Kailua, HYCF is undergoing a physical and spiritual transformation, rebranding itself to become the Kawailoa Youth and Family Wellness Center and to realize a new vision for Hawaiʻi’s juvenile justice system.

The site was originally established in 1928 as the Kawailoa Training School for Girls, a reformatory school and a farm/ranch operation. In 1962, the boys’ and girls’ schools were combined to form what is now the HYCF, and the DOE opened Olomana School there to meet special educational needs for children in Windward Oʻahu.

Photo: Mark Patterson with program participants
Mark Patterson (blue aloha shirt) is in the business of transforming lives. He hopes that a 2021 bill being introduced at the legislature will allow Kawailoa to sell its high-quality, locally and sustainably produced beef to the local market to help them become more self-sufficient. – Photo: Jason Lees

In 2014, major legislation and a mandate to focus on community-based interventions for at-risk youth and culturally based healing began the transformation of Hawaiʻi’s juvenile justice system. Patterson, the former warden of the Women’s Community Correctional Center (WCCC), was chosen to lead HYCF in this new direction; his vision is for physical and spiritual rehabilitation of both the keiki and the ʻāina.

With years of experience in corrections, Patterson was troubled by the fact that Hawaiʻi’s prisons were filled with Hawaiians, almost all of whom had a history of family trauma. To address this, Patterson developed an innovative rehabilitation model to use at WCCC, but knew he could better influence the future by working with youth.

“Nearly all of the kids 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,” Patterson explained.

“Many come from foster care with parents who are also incarcerated. By affording them support and a real opportunity to succeed, we can prevent them from ending up in the adult criminal justice system. And if we can reach into the community to help families heal and strengthen, if we can provide safe shelter, stability, and community for youth who really need it, then maybe we can keep them from ending up in the system altogether.”

When he started with HYCF in 2014, Patterson continued to build on work that had begun four years earlier by advocates from the juvenile justice system, family court, youth-serving state agencies and community youth service providers to aggressively divert juveniles to community-based alternatives instead of incarceration.

And it seemed to work.

In just a few years, the number of youth incarcerated at HYCF dropped from nearly 100 at its peak to about 25 on any given day. This 75% reduction in incarceration has allowed Patterson to repurpose the HYCF campus’ 20 structures and 300 acres of agricultural land, and reinvest dollars initially earmarked for corrections.

In 2018, the Kawailoa Youth and Family Wellness Center was born. The legislature authorized Patterson to begin transforming the correctional center campus into a place of healing. Within months, buildings and grounds formerly used to jail juveniles were transformed into community- and family-oriented program spaces including a young adult homeless shelter, a residential vocational training program for youth and young adults, and an assessment center and shelter for young victims of sex trafficking.

Patterson laid the foundation for a puʻuhonua where Hawaiian healing modalities are integrated with therapeutic programming. Already, keiki and ʻohana can find both healing programs and supportive services from several community service providers and state agencies at Kawailoa Center.

Photo: Sign reads Kupa Aina

And this is just the beginning. Patterson says there is more work to be done and plenty of space. He hopes to expand Kawailoa Center’s current programs and services for youth with unmet mental health needs. These youth, who comprise a substantial portion of HYCF’s population, are transferred to the continent for treatment not available in Hawaiʻi. Patterson also wants to focus on young adults who experience a gap in services as they age out of foster care or even HYCF. “These young adults are the fastest-growing homeless population and many face a near-certain future in the adult correctional system,” he said.

With the help of the state, the Kailua community, and the keiki and ʻohana of Kawailoa, Patterson plans to continue transforming the Kawailoa Center’s serene campus into a place of healing.

Plans include creating a residential mental health treatment facility, expanding vocational training opportunities and transitional housing by reviving Kawailoa’s ranch practices, establishing a Hawaiian heritage center, restoring Kukuipilau Heiau (located on the property), building a hale for faith-based activities, and renovating the existing athletic complex. Together he hopes these offerings will provide youth with multi-faceted opportunities for personal healing and prosocial community building.

But for now, in the quiet peace and rolling hills of Kawailoa, youth who have had a difficult start in life can find safety and healing and the freedom to dream big dreams.