Senate hearing probes prison escapes, canceled family visits, staff shortages

By Catherine Cruz
Published On: Jun 18 2014 06:32:17 PM HST
Updated On: Jun 18 2014 10:07:35 PM HST

Public safety officials were at the capitol today to explain how the aging facility and staff shortages are compounding an already bad situation.

HONOLULU -

Two back-to-back escapes, and mounting prison problems--the state's prison chief wants to get to the bottom of how and why.

Click here to watch Catherine Cruz's story.

He told a Senate Public Safety committee an internal probe could take up to three months.

"If any staff is culpable we need to give them a chance to tell their side of the story. They are entitled to a hearing if we decide to move forward with charges, said Public Safety director Ted Sakai.

Sakai is looking at what can be done to tighten up security at the aging facility which may have contributed to Skelton's escape.

"There is no alarm system on the fence at the Oahu Community Correctional Center, and the reason is that it was built decades ago and it was never upgraded. We do have a security consultant coming in next month," said Sakai.

Sakai is also battling serious staff shortages and chronic cancellations of weekend prison visits.

Frustrated families turned out at a senate hearing to plead for help.

They point to busy hot lines, and poor treatment from staff.

"As you can see I am very upset. It becomes very personal when it is in your family, both mental illness and having someone in jail, and not being able to visit them,” said Steven Katz.

"You have to continually keep calling and sometimes when you  have to continually keep calling and sometimes when you want to be in line you have to drive from your destinations before you know if there is visitations or not," said Ruth Boswell.

"Sometimes they are rude and nasty and they mock them. It is really rude, they way treat most of us and we pretty much have to take it," said Kelly Cadhinha.

This past weekend, visits were cancelled when guards had to deal with 9 prisoners on suicide watch and two who had to be hospitalized.

Sakai revealed starting figures about how half of his 1200 guards are dealing with serious health issues and are eligible to take up to two months of family leave.

Sakai said the governor is close to  a decision on a plan to build a new prison.

He says the state has had a dozen responses to a new design-build process he hopes to roll out soon.

"We had sufficient interest from developers and other to tell us this method is very possible said Sakai.

One possible long-term fix  in the mix is to work a land swap freeing up the real estate under OCCC for development around rail which will run right by it.
The short-term solutions to some of the immediate problems offered Wed. include weekday prison visits and even video visits.

Officials said the staffing issues are more challenging and need the union at the table.

Timeline: Daniel Skelton's escape & capture

Click here for a timeline of Skelton's escape.

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