Corrections officers: Severe staffing shortages are contributing to ‘dangerous’ conditions

Published: Jun. 14, 2022 at 10:43 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 15, 2022 at 10:07 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Workers at Hawaii’s correctional facilities are raising the alarm as staffing shortages worsen.

One employee tells Hawaii News Now that he’s feeling over-worked after pulling up to 40-hour shifts. He said extensive work hours are taking a toll on the physical and mental health of employees, which is leading to even more staff problems.

“It’s at a point where it’s almost like, you feel like you’re a slave working there,” said one adult correctional officer.

With severe short staffing at many of Hawaii’s jails and prisons, he’s not alone.

“I’m very frustrated and very frightened that someone’s going to get hurt,” said another adult correctional officer. “I’m frightened for myself as well.”

According to the state’s last population count, four facilities were over-capacity.

Oahu Community Correctional Center, for example, has 155 more inmates than its capacity.

In the past, understaffing and overcrowding have led to riots at the Maui and Hawaii community correctional centers.

The adult correctional officers said that with exhausted staff putting in multiple shifts, working on any given day is dangerous.

“We’re made to do more for less, you know, and that can’t happen, we’re outnumbered,” said one staff member. “They don’t realize the staff, the nurses, the ACOs, the civilians, the church volunteers, all those people are in danger.”

“If something were to happen, we don’t have the backup, we don’t have the abilities to control it,” the corrections officer added.

The Department of Public Safety said they have made no secret over the years of the fact that the correctional facilities are dealing with continuous staffing shortages.

The agency issued this statement:

“Contractually, essential security posts have to be filled whenever possible, which requires holding over some employees to work longer shifts in order to maintain adequate coverage of the essential posts. Although it is rare to work a 24-hour shift, anyone who is held over that long is automatically provided with a mandatory admin day off.”

The state is hoping to build a new correctional facility, but lawmakers denied funds for it earlier this month.

“You cannot have a jail like this continue to run at this level,” said state Sen. Kurt Fevella. “We’re not fixing it because you want something brand new, it doesn’t work that way.”

DPS said they can bring in emergency staff, but none are currently assigned to OCCC. The majority are at Halawa.

The corrections officer said he’s left wondering when help is on the way.

The Department of Public Safety is looking to fill 92 vacant adult correctional officer positions at OCCC quickly through increased training cycles and expanded recruitment classes.

The starting pay for an ACO recruit is $4,346 per month.

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