HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Front-line staff at the state's juvenile detention facility in Kapolei are routinely required to work 16-hour and occasionally even 24-hour shifts because of staff shortages, something that some staff said creates an unsafe environment for the troubled kids they are supposed to protect.
The facility, opened in 2010, serves as "jail" for boys and girls across the state aged 13 to17. They are supposed to be held there for short amounts of time while awaiting trial or placement in programs for the mentally ill, and those addicted to drugs.
Three juvenile detention workers came forward, and five others told Hawaii News Now similar stories, complaining of what they call an unsafe environment at the facility because of short staffing and inexperienced employees there.
The youth facility suffers from a 13-percent vacancy rate and 33-percent turnover in front-line employees who've been fired or quit over the last three years.
"I don't believe it's safe for anyone," said Hailama Kaikaina, an eight-year veteran juvenile detention worker and former union shop steward who said staff are routinely required to stay for a second shift, working 16 hours and occasionally 24 hours or longer because other workers have called in sick.
"You definitely increase the chances of the kids getting hurt, it creates an unsafe environment for yourself, your partner, and everybody else who's using the building," Kaikaina said.
"Obviously, it's (working 16-hour and longer shifts) unacceptable," said state Judiciary spokeswoman Tammy Mori. "It's in very rare and also extreme circumstances where we have to have people stay beyond the eight hours."
Mori said the facility created 10 new temporary positions in the last two years so they could fill-in for vacationing and sick employees.
"That is something that we continue to work on and something we definitely need to improve on," Mori said.
Some employees earn so much overtime, working three or four 16 hour days in a week, that they can afford to take days or weeks off without pay, creating further shortages.
"The employees here, similarly as was testified at the Hawaii State Hospital, appear to be gaming the system," said State Sen. Clayton Hee, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Asked why about one-third of the employees have left the facility in the last three years, Superintendent Rockne Maunupau said, "This is a tough job and some people can't handle the stress of it."
Juvenile detention worker Scott Northup has been out of work since May 1, when he says a mentally ill boy jumped him, punched and kicked him.
"If you can't even make it a safe working place for us, how can I provide safety and security for the detainee, especially if I'm passed an eight-hour shift, if I'm on a 16-hour shift or 24-hour shift," Northup said.
Physician Scott Miscovich has treated eight youth facility employees with assault injuries since the beginning of May.
"In my mind, that's just not something we should tolerate as the state or as an employer," Miscovich said. "For eight people to be assaulted in a time where we've seen they're understaffed there's high stress, it's unacceptable."
Miscovich said they have all been denied medical treatment under workers compensation, even though the assaults happened on video with witnesses.
Asked if the facility is safe for kids and the people who work there, Mori, the spokeswoman for the Judiciary, which oversees the facility said, "It is safe, but there's always room for improvement."
Soon, Mori said employees will start wearing portable "duress buttons" that they can press for help in an emergency.
On May 24, juvenile detention worker John Taylor got injured while working a 16-hour shift doing a "take down" of an unruly resident. He's been out of work since then. The resident and another staffer landed on top of him when they were struggling.
"I slammed into the cement with 400 pounds of human on top of me so I hurt my back, pulled my shoulder," Taylor said.
Taylor was on his 12th hour of a 16-hour shift on mandatory OT when the incident happened, he said.
The Judiciary reported six "substantiated reports" of six kid-to-staff assaults in 2014 so far. In 2013, the number of kid-to-staff assaults was 17, one less than 2012, when 18 assaults on staff by residents were reported.
Staffers said there are more incidents that don't get reported or are sometimes covered up by supervisors.
Judiciary officials said they will continue to ask the legislature for more funding to hire more positions to help ease the staffing shortage and they hope to cut back on overtime.
As of June 13, the facility has spent $552,300 on overtime, more than twice the budgeted amount of $248,800 for the fiscal year that ends June 30. That extra overtime amount would be covered by a $916,397 surplus in regular pay, unspent money that's available because of unfilled positions.
In 2013, the overtime budget at the facility was $720,551, nearly three times the $248,800 budgeted amount. That year, there was a $674,249 surplus in regular pay, again, because of vacant positions.