At Maui's correctional center, a litany of safety issues and no fix in sight

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii's jails are not only overcrowded, they are falling apart.

That's the frank assessment from the state's prisons director, who says the state agencies that are supposed to fix problems haven't been able to keep up with deteriorating conditions at multiple facilities.

Prison employees are similarly concerned, and some say the situation is putting them at risk.

Documents obtained by Hawaii News Now show that at one jail in particular -- the Maui Community Correctional Center -- the litany of safety complaints and issues have been going on for years.

Nolan Espinda, who heads the state's prison system, says he isn't ignoring the problem (as some have claimed).

He agrees that the serious issues need to be addressed quickly.

"The Maui situation is like any of the situations across the state, with the exception of Halawa, (they) are worn dilapidated and worn out," Espinda said.

Those conditions at MCCC have triggered complaints, union grievances, and even a threatened OSHA fine.

"We have a facility that's falling down," said one corrections officer who works at MCCC.

And the officer means that literally.

For example, in 2015, a roof leak at MCCC spurred a state occupational safety citation. The warden said he needed more time to fix it.

Also that year, a fire alarm panel was reported to be inoperable -- prompting another OSHA case. And, in a separate complaint, employees said they might have been exposed to mold and fungus due to water damage.

The documents obtained by Hawaii News Now show that many of the problems at MCCC have existed since at least, 2014, when MCCC was cited and DPS issued a $2,200 fine by the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.

And today, the problems continue.

Photos sent to Hawaii News Now from sources inside the jail appear to show severe mold outbreaks, cracked flooring, electrical wires strung haphazardly across rooms, stockpiled asbestos removal waste, and a fire control system that sources inside the jail say still isn't working.

"We don't have a fire control system. The main system in fire control system in central control has been broke for about three years," the corrections officer said.

Espinda says he's aware of the issues, but has had to deal with a lengthy procurement process to get them fixed.

"Simple projects that on the outside can take possibly two years can take the state up to five to seven," Espinda said.

"So much of what we do is predicated or prefaced by process put in place to avoid scandal, to avoid corruption, and these steps take a long time. We really believe and truly believe we're making every reasonable effort possible to resolve all of these problems."

As for legislative relief to fix these problems, that also appears to be a long way away with bigger facilities needing even more work.

Oahu Community Correctional Center "is the top priority," said state Sen. Will Espero, "and tprobably nothing will happen with MCCC until we figure out what we're going to do with OCCC."

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