Experts say riot at Maui jail symptom of aging, overcrowded facility

(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
Published: Mar. 12, 2019 at 9:59 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The riot at Maui Community Correction Center on Monday was actually the second inmate uprising at the aging facility in less than a year, officials said.

Department of Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda said overcrowding was at the root of both incidents, and he fears more violence could be in store.

“As with the situation last April 2018, conditions surrounding overcrowding creates tense moments ... and problems," he said Tuesday.

The Maui jail is built for 301 inmates. But currently, there are about 410 prisoners there.

It’s even more crowded in the modules where the rioting took place.

[Read more: Public Safety director says severe overcrowding at Maui jail likely cause of riot]

“The unit involved and the unit next door are intended to house 48 inmates. The unit involved had 95 at the time and the unit next door had 93 ― so do the math,” Espinda said.

An investigation into how the riot started is underway.

Multiple sources tell Hawaii News Now that the Maui jail had no warden on Monday night. The acting warden was on vacation, and no one was qualified to taken the position, the sources said.

On Tuesday, armed guards continued to walk the perimeter of the facility.

Officials said the inmates responsible for the riot would face criminal charges and disciplinary actions.

Plans are underway to build a new facility on Maui, but it will be years before it’s completed. Until then, the congestion will get worse, increasing tensions for guards and prisoners.

“Guys are all over each other. They have no sense of privacy," said attorney Eric Seitz. "They have no room to move around. They’re locked into room often. It’s just a cauldron and it’s going to blow up.”

Seitz filed lawsuits in the 1980s and 1990s alleging overcrowding violated inmates’ civil rights. The suits did get the state Legislature to address the issue.

He expects similar lawsuits are coming again.

“I think that’s inevitable. Somebody’s going to file those lawsuits if those condition are not fixed," he said.

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