HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Chronic overcrowding and under-staffing issues at the Maui Community Correctional Center are prompting state prison officials to explore the viability of a drastic and expensive solution to help shore up security at the facility.
They want to fly prison guards from other islands to the Valley Isle to work temporary shifts at the prison.
In a letter to staffers that was obtained this week by Hawaii News Now, Department of Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda asked for volunteers who would be willing to spend one week at a time at the Wailuku-area prison.
“Over the last several years, it has been difficult to recruit, hire and maintain ACOs on all islands with the job market being so competitive," Espinda wrote, in a memo that was dated June 4. “MCCC is extremely short staffed, where ACOs have been routinely working 16 hours (a day).”
The troublesome conditions at the Maui Community Correctional Center have been well publicized in recent months.
In April, Espinda told reporters that said severe overcrowding at the facility was “probably what led to” a prison riot in March that ended with significant damage to the jail.
In the wake of the riot, staff members at the Maui jail sent an anonymous letter to the media in which they said the riot was a symptom of bigger problems — and the public should be worried about their safety.
And weeks after the riot occurred, two pre-trial detainees somehow escaped from MCCC in the middle of the night.
The need for additional staffing is clear, but hiring guards has proven difficult. To lure workers from other islands for the temporary work, Espinda is offering to pay for hotel expenses, airfare, and meals.
He’s also offering to pay them overtime. The combination of those cost factors has some lawmakers worried.
“When you get in these triage situations that’s what happens," said state Sen. Karl Rhoads, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "You become penny-wise and a pound foolish. It has to be cheaper to have enough ACOs to cover the time slots.”
The Department of Public Safety says it is still consulting with the guard’s union on the plan.