Prompted by reports of unsafe conditions, senator makes surprise prison inspection

Published: Nov. 29, 2021 at 5:22 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 29, 2021 at 5:39 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A state senator conducted a surprise inspection of the Halawa Correctional Facility on Monday after hearing guards’ reports of unsafe conditions.

State Sen. Kurt Fevella said there were supposed to be 91 adult correctional officers on the morning shift at the Halawa Correctional Facility on Monday.

But during his inspection, only 58 were present ― 33 positions were either vacant or on leave.

“This is the worst ever,” he said.

Fevella, a Republican who represents Ewa Beach, said the staffing shortages have forced correctional officers to work 16- to 32-hour shifts ― potentially dangerous for guards and inmates alike.

“We get inmates challenging the guards because they know the guards are tired. ‘Get in your cell. I don’t like get in my cell.’ Call for back up, they know they don’t have back up,” he said.

He said the staffing shortages have also forced prison officials to cancel inmates’ church, exercise and visitation privileges ― adding to the tensions.

“We need to get these guys to be able to go to chapel, be able to eat in the mess hall ... to make sure the hostility we have here doesn’t escalate,” Fevella said.

Prison officials acknowledged that staffing shortages have been a problem for a while.

They said there are 332 adult correctional officers assigned to Halawa. But on any given day, more than 100 positions are either vacant or are occupied by a staffer on leave.

Public safety officials said they have reached out to trainees and retirees to fill the vacancies and that deputy sheriffs are patrolling the perimeter of the prison.

But Fevella said deputy sheriffs should also patrol inside the prison and that prison officials should make emergency hires ― instead of paying so much money in overtime.

But prison officials said the sheriffs’ union contract does not include training for correctional work and that the sheriffs division is also short-staffed.

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