Latest guard arrest prompts calls for reform

6 pm version: Guard arrest prompts calls for reform
Published: Jan. 28, 2014 at 3:35 AM HST|Updated: Jan. 28, 2014 at 11:00 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The latest arrest of a Halawa prison guard for alleged drug smuggling is renewing new calls for reforms, and one of the biggest advocates is the head of the prison system himself.

"We know it's been happening, obviously its happening. We don't know how much more there is," said Ted Sakai, director of the Department of Public Safety.

"I don't think it's widespread like every inmate is on drugs -- nothing to that extent -- but there are pockets within our facility where you do have drugs coming in."

Sakai met with the media the day after FBI agents arrested Mark Damas on charges that he conspired to bring in more than five ounces of crystal meth into the state's maximum security prison.

Damas is the fourth Halawa guard to be charged with smuggling since Sakai became director in 2012.

The 45-year-old Wahiawa man and father of three appeared in federal court on Monday and was released on a $50,000 bond.

"He's very concerned. He's a lifelong member of this community and this affects his family greatly," said Damas' attorney Rustam Barbee.

Sakai said the prison system is trying to tighten it's security measures.

"We are looking at several changes to make it harder to get in. We're starting with the visitors. We're looking very hard at tightening up security," he said.

"We're doing more random drug tests, more for cause testing of inmates."

But the problem has been in policing the guards themselves due in part to union rules.

"I can't say for sure but they should be searched going in. If they bring in a bag they are searched," he said.

He says he's working with the unions to implement more random drug testing of guards.

And the department has beefed up hiring standards and training for its most recent recruits.

"We're waiting to see what the results are. It seems to be positive so far," he said.

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