Hawaii warden: Violent sex films used in "shame therapy"

HONOLULU: The warden of a Hawaii jail testified Wednesday that he showed inmates violent sexual films as part of a program he created that includes what he calls "shame therapy."

Kauai Community Correctional Center Warden Neal Wagatsuma began testifying in a trial for a lawsuit that accuses him of retaliating against a former jail social worker who alleged he subjected female inmates to sexual humiliation and discrimination.

Ever since the mid-1990s there have been rumors that he shows inmates pornography, but the videos aren't porn, he said: "I would never do that."

The warden showed films such as "Finding Mr. Goodbar," according to court documents. "Finding Mr. Goodbar" is a 1970s American drama in which the female protagonist is raped and murdered at its conclusion.

Hawaii Deputy Attorney General Bosko Petricevic told jurors the films were shown to discourage male inmates from committing rape and to teach female inmates how to lower the risks of becoming victims.

Former jail social worker Carolyn Ritchie's 2014 lawsuit says female inmates complained to her about Wagatsuma forcing them to watch rape videos and to divulge their sexual pasts while being filmed.

"Shame therapy is talking about things that are deep within a person," Wagatsuma said on the witness stand of a Honolulu federal courtroom. "It's just talking about their lives, talking about anything that's bothering them."

Wagatsuma said he yells and uses profanity during so-called "shame therapy" sessions. Words such as "whore" and "batuna," a Hawaii slang term for a woman who trades sex for crystal meth, were used in appropriate contexts, he said.

"I don't yell at them for no reason," said Wagatsuma, who became acting warden in 1992 and the permanent warden in 1995. "It's about chastising. It's a good thing ... you want to confront them when they're wrong."

No one was forced to talk about anything at daily meetings, Petricevic said.

Wagatsuma said he created the program without any experience or background in psychology but by drawing on his own life experiences. "Before I came into government, I had a really hard life," he said calling himself a "social misfit."

Ritchie's lawsuit also alleges the warden denied women the same work release opportunities as men.

Not all women could participate in a program that allows inmates to work in the community and then return to jail at the end of the day because there weren't enough female guards to strip-search them when they returned, he said.

Still, he insisted that he provided women and men equal work opportunities by ensuring that eligible female inmates could participate in a less-restrictive program that allowed them to also live in the community.

Wagatsuma's testimony is scheduled to continue next week.