The state Department of Public Safety ordered an internal investigation after 15 inmates at the severely overcrowded Oahu Community Correctional Center last week created a major disturbance, upset that officials were not resonding to their demands to get writing materials to file grievances.
The incident on Thursday resulted in the state’s largest correctional facility being placed in lockdown for nearly seven hours.
The disturbance involved 15 inmates in the prison’s overcrowded second-floor, single-cell holding unit who flooded some cells and attempted to start fires.
Corrections officers and staff immediately contained the disturbance by implementing crisis response procedures to safely deescalate the situation within an hour, said Toni Schwartz, Department of Public Safety spokeswoman.
She said “a lockdown was initiated at about 11:30 a.m. and lifted at 6 p.m.”
No serious injuries were reported.
An internal investigation is underway to look into all aspects of the disturbance and what caused it.
Prison officials said the inmates claimed to be upset about not getting writing material to file grievances and not receiving a requested Bible in a timely fashion.
The complaining inmates kept coming up with other complaints as guards tried to meet their demands.
The second floor of the unit has 12 cells that are supposed to be single-occupancy, but three of them had two inmates in each cell because of overcrowding.
Eventually, five of the 15 inmates gave themselves up but 10 remained in their cells during the disturbance.
Schwartz said: “Staff saw the signs that it was going to escalate and acted fast to defuse the situation within an hour. The staff did everything they were trained to do for situations like that and settled the disturbance fast.”
Schwartz said other than prison officials, no other law enforcement agencies were required.
The Kalihi prison facility is housing 1,157 inmates when it was originally designed for 628. The facility has been modified to hold 954 beds.
Gov. David Ige has proposed a $489.3 million project that would replace the OCCC’s existing facilities in Kalihi and move it to a site near the Halawa Correctional Facility. That proposal is now being discussed by the current legislative session.
In April, Ige released $5 million in state funds for planning and to solicit proposals to relocate the prison.
Department of Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda this session told lawmakers that a failure to address the problem could result in federal intervention.
“The Oahu, Kauai, Maui and Hawaii community correctional centers are grossly overcrowded,” Espinda said. “Conditions created by overcrowding place the citizens and elected officials of Hawaii under a cloud of liability that could threaten continued autonomous control and supervision of the jails throughout the state.”