Corrections Corporation of America is asking the federal court to force a final settlement in a class-action lawsuit over the religious rights of Native Hawaiian prisoners in Arizona.

The lawsuit was filed in 2011 by eight prisoners at the Saguaro Correctional Center, a CCA-run prison in Eloy, Arizona, that, at the end of January, housed nearly a quarter of Hawaii’s 5,936 inmates.

The prisoners alleged that CCA officials prevented them from gathering for daily outdoor worship and confiscated objects they said were vital to their religion.

The case, which also lists the Hawaii Department of Public Safety as a defendant, was supposed to be all but settled in May, when the two sides agreed to the basic terms of a settlement, with the details to be hammered out by October.

According to CCA and the state, what remained was “a mere technicality” — committing the settlement terms to writing.

Nine months later, no written agreement has yet to materialize — a situation that CCA attorney Rachel Love argues is caused by the plaintiffs’ attorney Sharla Manley.

2015 Makahiki ceremony at the Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona.
After the federal class-action lawsuit was filed in 2011, the officials at the Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona, began allowing Native Hawaiian inmates to celebrate Makahiki twice a year. Hawaii Department of Public Safety

Love is accusing Manley of “embark(ing) on a nine-month trek of delay and additional unreasonable settlement demands that exceed the scope of what was already agreed to.”

Last week, Love filed a motion asking the court to grant preliminary approval of the terms of the May settlement.

In essence, the motion argues that the terms were “fair, reasonable and adequate” and address all of the plaintiffs’ claims.

Specifically, the motion says, “registered Native Hawaiian inmate practitioners” in Saguaro would be allowed to:

  • observe the annual season of Makahiki — a four-month period dedicated to the Hawaiian god Lono — twice a year;
  • participate in 90-minute outdoor worship classes six times a year;
  • keep Native Hawaiian garments, sea salts, written religious materials and ti leaf in their cells;
  • participate in weekly group gatherings, as well as classes to make Native Hawaiian garments;
  • loan out bamboo nose flute;
  • purchase coconut oil and one amulet per inmate for religious use;
  • have access to a spiritual advisor, as well as communal religious items stored in the chapel.

Manley, staff attorney at the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, declined to comment for this story, noting that settlement negotiations are still ongoing.

Her reply to Love’s motion is due to be filed before the next hearing, which is scheduled for April 11.

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