Pressure mounts for a change of leadership at the Department of Public Safety

(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
Updated: Aug. 25, 2020 at 5:35 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - In a hopeful sign Tuesday, the Department of Public Safety said there were no new cases of COVID-19 reported among inmates at the Oahu Community Correctional Center.

But four cases were found in Adult Corrections Officers at OCCC, and one Women’s Community Correctional Center staff member.

The total number of confirmed cases within Hawaii’s jail and prison facilities now stands at 57 staff, and 243 inmates statewide. Most of those cases are tied to OCCC.

And with the latest numbers comes added pressure for change within the department.

On Tuesday, unions HGEA and UPW stood in solidarity to call for the removal of DPS Director Nolan Espinda.

In a news release, HGEA said their members have “lost faith” in the department’s leadership after months of seeking clear guidance on operating procedures — to no avail.

“It is outrageous that frontline workers in correctional institutions, the cellblock, Hawaii Paroling Authority and at our international airport are not properly fitted with N95 face masks, don’t have clear safety protocols, and are not properly notified when there is a positive case in their facilities,” said HGEA Executive Director Randy Perreira.

“Continued attempts to communicate with the administration have failed and with COVID-19 surging on Oahu, people’s lives are at stake,” he added.

HGEA says they are preparing a class action grievance, and are calling on the governor and the state to make immediate changes.

UPW Administrator Liz Ho sent a letter to Gov. Ige further calling for Espinda’s removal for a lack of oversight and leadership.

“We’ve been calling for more PPE, more testing, and more realistic options for battling overcrowding. But we are no closer to getting this virus under control,” Ho said.

“This is unconscionable. This is about the safety of workers and inmates – as well as the safety of the entire community. Under Espinda, the situation only promises to get worse. It is time for Governor Ige to take action and remove Director Espinda and put competent leadership in place at DPS,” she added.

In an official response, DPS simply said, “The Department of Public Safety will continue to engage in on-going discussions with UPW to resolve concerns expressed by our employees. Together, we will navigate through the unprecedented challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic impacting our state and facilities.

This story may be updated.

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