HONOLULU (KHON2) — The growing COVID-19 outbreak is adding strain at the Oahu Community Correctional Center.
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As of Sunday, Aug. 16, the Department of Public Safety reported that four more inmates and two more employees at the prison have tested positive for the virus. This brings the inmate case total to 170, and the employee case total to 30 at OCCC.
“Quarantine lockdowns, and cramped conditions, combined with the stress of the COVID-19 outbreak at OCCC translates to inmates becoming restless and agitated,” said a representative for the Department of Public Safety.
The department reported that two fires were started by inmates.
One happened on August 15 after lunch was served late. Employees immediately put out the fire. The department adds that another attempt to start a fire was made, but was unsuccessful.
Once meals were served, calm quickly resumed.
“There was no damage, injuries, or escalation evident,” said the department.
On August 16, Public Safety said inmates upset about quarantine lockdowns started a small fire in a common area of a housing module. The fire was extinguished quickly and there was no damage caused by the fire. Department officials added that two inmates damaged a toilet and lighting fixture, and sustained minor injuries during the damage.
Meanwhile, an adult corrections officer had some minor eye irritation from the fire extinguisher gas.
Forty inmates are temporarily relocated to an outside recreation area while the damage is being assessed and cleaned up.
The situation is under investigation and inmates found culpable will be criminally and administratively charged.
All staff on duty are to be commended for effectively and professionally keeping the situation under control during these trying times.Hawaii Department of Public Safety
Adult Correctional Officers, inmates and their family members are very concerned with what has transpired at OCCC this last week.
One inmate describes the situation as “chaos.”
“I’m going on four years right now and I’ve never seen it like this, I mean this is kind of crazy,” explained OCCC inmate Alabanza Tuimalealiifano.
“We don’t have COVID-19, and they’re supposed to freeze all movements but then they’re moving us out to the COVID-19 areas where they’re on lockdown and quarantine and that’s not right,” he continued.
“It’s been a week and it’s just getting worse in here and the boys are getting kind of paranoid,” Tuimalealiifano added.
He said the inmates aren’t being allowed to shower and haven’t been given masks or hand sanitizer. Now, he said inmates are being refused medical treatment. He added that ACO’s are not showing up for their shifts out of fear of catching the virus.
“Check-in is supposed to be every 15 or 30 minutes. We’re lucky if we see an ACO every six hours,” he said.
Dr. Scott Miscovich with Premier Medical Group held a COVID-19 drive-thru testing on Sunday. He said there were several ACOs who came to get tested on Sunday and was shocked to hear that the entire facility hasn’t been tested yet.
“I’m aghast at the person leading testing and that it’s not being handled appropriately,” Dr. Miscovich said.
“I see guards here around co-workers who haven’t been tested. That is wrong, that is putting everyone at risk and probably why there’s a spread,” he continued. “They haven’t done anything to do adequate quarantine design and it’s not being handled the right way.”
On Monday, the Hawaii Supreme Court will be handed a list of potential inmates to be released from the overcrowded jail.
The Office of the Public Defender re-assured the public that violent inmates or inmates charged with offenses against a person, would not be considered for release at this time.
However, rushing to release inmates is a concern for some.
“We think it’s very short-sighted to rush this process,” said Nanci Kreidman, CEO of Domestic Violence Action Center.
“Of course we understand the immediacy of the threat, but the immediacy to someone else’s life or well-being is something we should be equally invested in and committed to,” she said.
“We think it’s so important to review the histories of the inmates being released even though they’re currently incarcerated for a non-violent crime,” she said.
“Often with a little bit of diligence, you might find domestic violence in their history even if they’re not convicted for domestic violence, that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a history of abuse in their relationship and doesn’t mean their victims are safer with them incarcerated,” she added.
She said if any victims are worried or concerned about the potential release of an inmate to contact the Domestic Violence Center. Or they can text 605-956-5680 or chat online with someone 24/7 at www.domesticviolenceactioncenter.org
One domestic violence victim, whose husband is currently behind bars, said she’s worried for herself, her children and other woman.
“My biggest fear is I will become vulnerable again and I don’t want to be vulnerable because I worked so hard to get past that hate, to get past the fears, living in fear, it’s not fun, especially with my children, it’s not a fun state of mind,” explained the victim.
She said her husband was released in May when inmates were released to prevent COVID-19 from spreading in the state’s jails.
“The third time they released him, I almost died the third time, he held me captive for two days and he was going to kill me,” she explained. “If the system releases these prisoners, our children are not going to look up to the system, they’re going to look at the system as a failure, they’re not going to trust the system at all.”
She said the system should take responsibility adding the OCCC outbreak could have been prevented.
“They had months to prepare for this. They knew it was coming out, why didn’t they prepare? Why didn’t they give the prisoners the tools they needed to prevent this? Why didn’t they give the ACO’s the tools they needed to prevent this virus from spreading? They had the opportunity to,” she said.
She said even if violent inmates aren’t released, many of the inmates will turn to drugs. “The drug abuse is the main poison these inmates are in there for, and it’s the drug abuse that leads them to becoming violent,” she added.
Susan Arnett, deputy public defender, argued the inmates who test negative for COVID-19 and are not a risk to the community need to be released right away.
“These people need to be released now,” she said. “There is no time for a full background check and if you look at some of the categories we identified, some of them are people pre-trial and they haven’t been convicted of anything, they’re just too poor to afford the amount of bail that’s been set in their case.”
Tuimalealiifano said inmates who test negative should be released right away.
“Put them on house arrest, if they have an address to go to. Put them on house arrest, give them a chance, this is like a death sentence right now,” he said.