Relatives: Correctional officers, inmates don’t have access to adequate protective equipment

Updated: Aug. 15, 2020 at 10:26 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Family members of inmates and corrections officers say the state prison system doesn’t have adequate personal protective equipment to keep people safe.

Kalani Werner, 41, has been a corrections officer for 16 years.

Last week, he pulled long shifts at Oahu Community Correctional Center, where he was in a unit where inmates suspected of having COVID-19 are being housed.

“Monday, Tuesday, he worked double shifts from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday he went into work at 6, called me maybe about 8 o’clock, just to let me know that he’s not feeling well,” said his wife, Naly.

She said by Wednesday night, her husband was feeling worse.

“I told my daughter to stay downstairs before he came home,” she said. “He went straight to the bathroom, showered, went in the room, stayed there the whole time.”

Kalani Werner was tested on Thursday. It came back positive for COVID-19 on Friday, and he was subsequently hospitalized.

[Read a related report: Parolee positive for COVID sent to OCCC, despite state’s knowledge of diagnosis]

His wife believes he got sick because of a lack of PPEs, including masks that were inadequate.

“I had to go out there and search for those PPEs, wipes, sanitizers. But at this time it is very rare to get,” she said, adding everyone else in the home has tested negative for COVID-19.

Meanwhile, a wife of a Laumaka Work Furlough Center inmate fears for his life.

The woman, who asked to remain anonymous, said he’s at higher risk because he’s had two bouts of cancer and has undergone chemotherapy. She said he’s been given only a single cloth mask.

“The masks that they do have, that they were provided, they’re really super thin and flimsy, and there’s only one for months, like for months they’ve only had that one,” she said.

She also said work furlough inmates like her husband should be considered for release.

“Why not the Laumaka inmates? They’re already halfway out the door,” she said. “They’re already spending half the time outside of the facility. They’re already at home on their passes. They’re at work in the community, reintegrating.”

In response, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Safety said: “The furlough program has been suspended during this time to reduce the number of people coming and going from the facility and creating a bigger health crisis within the population under our care and custody.”

She added that Laumaka inmates “are sentenced felons that may be eligible for parole by the Hawaii Paroling Authority, if they meet release criteria.”

DPS also said said it instituted a plan for COVID-19, including requiring social distancing if possible, issuing personal protective equipment to staff and face masks to inmates and increasing cleaning.

Incoming inmates are also quarantined.

The wife of the Laumaka inmate said he has been tested and was negative for COVID-19.

Kalani Werner’s condition appeared to be improving Friday, and his wife is hopeful that he may be able to come home within a week. But she’s fearful if he goes back to work.

“He can get it again, and what if he passes it on to us?” Naly Werner asked. “So I’m very afraid for those right now that’s in there that has to deal with this every day.”

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