Maui’s jail is so understaffed that the state is recruiting guards from other Hawaiian Islands to help
Staffing levels at the Maui Community Correctional Center have grown so bad that the state is trying to fly in guards from other islands to help out with shifts.
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Staffing levels at the Maui Community Correctional Center have grown so bad that the state is trying to fly in guards from other islands to help out with shifts, according to a June 4 internal memo from Nolan Espinda, director of the state Department of Public Safety.
The department is asking guards to commit to working a week at a time at the Maui jail where their hotel, airfare, ground transportation and a per diem that includes a meal allowance will be paid for by the department. Overtime shifts are likely.
The memo, which was sent to corrections officers, was provided to the Star-Advertiser by a guard at MCCC.
Maui guards told the Star-Advertiser last month that conditions at the jail had continued to deteriorate after a riot broke out at the facility in March, with an increasing number of guards not showing up for their shifts, leaving those left to work 60 to 80 hours a week to pick up the slack. One guard went so far as to warn that the National Guard might need to be brought in — a prospect that DPS didn’t dispute.
There are supposed to be 170 adult corrections officers (ACOs) at MCCC. DPS said last month that there were as few as 83 guards working regularly — a number that has since fallen to 52. There are now 33 vacancies and 22 employees out on workers’ compensation, according to figures provided Monday by DPS. The number of staff who have obtained leave under the federal Family Medical and Leave Act has jumped to 63 currently from 32 last month.
The federal law allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of leave within a one-year period for medical reasons, meaning they aren’t out all the time.
Guards have told the Star-Advertiser that the riot, unsafe conditions and low morale at the jail are causing increasing numbers of guards not to show up to work. However, Espinda’s memo doesn’t reference the riot or conditions at the jail.
“Over the last several years, it has been difficult to recruit, hire and maintain ACOs on all islands with the job market being so competitive,” wrote Espinda in his memo. “However, MCCC is extremely short staffed where ACOs have been routinely working sixteen hours. Temporary relief is essential.”
Espinda wrote that the Maui jail is “in dire need of support” from both the department and other corrections officers.
DPS spokeswoman Toni Schwartz didn’t respond to questions about how many guards DPS was seeking to transfer to Maui or how much has been budgeted for the temporary assignments. She said DPS is consulting with the United Public Workers, the union that represents corrections officers, about the plan.
The transfer of guards to Maui could strain conditions at other jails and prisons in the state that also have high vacancy rates. There were 121 vacant corrections officer positions throughout the state as of October. DPS announced last week that it is recruiting statewide for corrections officers.
For recruits the starting salary is $49,236 annually, according to UPW, which increases to $51,228 after a nine-month probation period. However, guards can make significantly more with overtime pay.
Guards on Maui have continued to raise concerns about safety conditions at the Maui jail in recent weeks, especially with the return of MCCC inmates who allegedly took part in the riot. Of the 33 inmates who were transferred to Halawa Correctional Facility on Oahu after the riot, 21 have been returned to MCCC.
The riot took three hours to contain and caused more than $5 million in damage. Inmates broke fire sprinklers, which shot water into a common area. They smashed furniture, toilets and sinks and started a fire that filled portions of the jail with smoke. There were also reports of inmates getting into a storeroom where they took out chemicals such as bleach and ammonia and attempted to use them as “poisonous gases.”
“It’s not safe there,” one MCCC guard told the Star-Advertiser last week. “They are extremely short-staffed — extremely.”