Suicides on the rise at Oahu prisons

Suicides on the rise at Oahu prisons

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Prison suicides used to be rare in Hawaii. But in the past several months, state officials are reeling from a string of deaths at Halawa prison and Oahu Community Correctional Center.

"In the past 15 years ... we have never heard of this in Hawaii prisons. So it is deeply, deeply concerning," said Kat Brady of the Community Alliance on Prisons.

On Saturday, prison guards discovered 56-year-old Catherine Callahan hanging in her cell. That came after 19-year-old OCCC inmate Ikaika Andrade and 22-year-old Halawa prisoner Darius Puni-Mau committed suicide in April.

Experts say the latest suicide was alarming because Callahan was on suicide watch earlier this month before being returned to the general prison population.

"When someone was on suicide watch, one would think the state would be heightened to look at her and monitor her and to look at her more frequently," said Brady.

Even before Callahan's death, the state has been conducting a review of its procedures. They say they are now looking to install additional cameras that will allow guards to monitor activity within jail cells.

Prison officials said that about 90 percent of their staff have training in suicide prevention.

"Any death is alarming. We're trying to reduce the deaths here at OCCC, especially suicides and homicides to zero," said Max Otani, Deputy Director, Department of Public Safety.

State Sen. Will Espero said he plans to meet with prison officials later this week to talk about what can be done to avoid prison suicides. We spoke to the family of one of the suicide victims, who told us they weighing their legal options.