Prison employees skip screening for illegal items

Toni Schwartz
Toni Schwartz

By Tim Sakahara - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - They watch the state's toughest criminals but who's watching the guards?  To the surprise of lawmakers none of the adult corrections officers are screened before entering the prison even though some guards have been caught smuggling contraband in the past.

There are about 300 guards working here at the Halawa Correctional Facility and none of them have to go through a metal or contraband detector before starting their shift much to the surprise of some lawmakers.

"The majority of our Adult Corrections Officer's, the high majority are honorable, law abiding citizens, however I have spoken with inmates, I have spoken with ACO's and in the past there have been cases where state employees have been convicted," said State Senator Will Espero (D), Public Safety, Military, and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee Chair.

A carton of cigarettes could go for more than $500 in prison.  Drugs and weapons can go for even more.  So Senator Espero says the state should take away the temptation from an employee to supplement their income.

"It wouldn't be done because we're trying to catch the bad guys, although that's what it would do, but it's truly a matter of safety and security and good policy in a secured facility," said Sen. Espero.

The state Department of Public Safety admits illegal items do slip through, but in order to screen all employees at all correctional facilities they need money.

"If they want the screening to be done in our facilities then we need the machines to do it and we need the money to get those machines," said Toni Schwartz, Department of Public Safety Spokesperson.

Some facilities like Halawa already have the machines but still don't check all employees. They do have the authority to conduct random checks.  To make screening mandatory they need to change policy which would then become a union issue and has been fought in the past.

The United Public Workers, which represents the guards didn't return phone calls.

The Hawaii Government Employees Association, which represents others who work at the prison like social workers, nurses, psychologists and facility maintenance supervisors, says it would not oppose walking through screening machines.  However is against pat downs or anything that could violate civil rights.

"If we to change our policy then we will go through the proper channels with the unions and discuss it with them," said Schwartz.  "We trust our employees. They work hard but if there is a policy change then everyone will be expected to go through with the change."

It's not an issue that will stay locked up for long as Senator Espero plans to push the issue in the name of safety.

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