State Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda said he looks forward to addressing criticism at State Senate confirmation hearings where some former and current prison employees are expected to testify against him.
Gov. David Ige nominated Espinda to head the troubled state prisons system and he's been in the job since Jan. 2, after spending 31 years in the prison system.
State Sen. Will Espero, who chairs the Senate public safety committee, will be in charge of Espinda's confirmation hearings. Espero told Hawaii News Now at least ten former and current prisons employees plan to testify against Espinda.
"I think that is certainly something that needs to be seriously looked at and seen whether this is the right person for the job or not," Espero said. "Those issues should be brought up at the confirmation hearing because we need to be able to put everything on the table and have Mr. Espinda be able to address any concerns as well."
The employees have told senators they do not believe Espinda is fit for the top job, claiming he's shown unprofessional behavior and has an intimidating management style that creates a hostile work environment.
"I look forward to addressing all of these situations, any allegation, whether they are groundless or whether they have any kind of legitimacy in fact, that's what the process is about," Espinda told Hawaii News Now.
Espinda has worked in the prison system since 1983 and spent the last six years as warden of Halawa Prison.
"Certainly we face allegations in difficult jobs such as mine where we are responsible for a large number of people, there are differing personalities and differing opinions," Espinda said.
Espero, who said confirmation hearings will be scheduled in the next two to three weeks, added, "When you have 30 years plus of experience, you never know what's out there and what might be made public."
Espero said he is keeping an "open mind" about Espinda, who he said has the experience, knowledge and background to head the department.
Espinda said, "It's every citizen's opportunity, every employee's opportunity to express their opinion about the governor's candidate for these jobs. It's an integral part of the Senate's responsibility and we absolutely all of us look forward to participating in that."
Espinda said since he's taken over state prison and sheriff operations at the beginning of the year, he and wardens at prisons have cut down drastically on canceled family visits because of a lack of prison staff. He said he wants to curb rampant overtime and get more corrections officers to come to work on their regular shifts and stop calling in sick, which leads to forced overtime for other prison guards.