Unions demand replacement of director of public safety as five correctional center workers test positive for coronavirus

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Department of Public Safety confirms five new cases of the coronavirus for community correctional center workers.

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The department says one is a staff member at the Women’s Community Correctional Center, and there are four staff members at the Oahu Community Correctional Center.

It’s at OCCC where the state is seeing the largest outbreak of cases. Professional deep cleaning and sanitation services will continue across three housing units through Thursday.

Two unions, the HGEA and the UPW, say Department of Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda must be replaced.

“We’re asking the governor to call for the resignation of Nolan Espinda,” UPW Administrator Liz Ho said. “We have not seen anything positive coming from the director’s office, and it’s time that he step up or step out,”

The United Public Workers represent Adult Corrections Officers at OCCC, and the Hawaii Government Employees Association represents nurses, social workers, case managers, clerks, and office assistant at the facility.

“The conditions in which they work there, it’s inhumane,” Ho said of the ACO’s.

“They’ve been working 24-36 hour shifts, they’re doing it to help each other out, they’re doing it out of loyalty to the department,” she added

The unions are asking DPS for better personal protective equipment, more frequent COVID-19 testing, hazard pay, and suspension of an attendance program that they say punishes ACO’s for unpaid absences and encourages employees to work when sick.

KHON2 reached out to Governor David Ige for comment on the union’s request, but he declined through a spokesperson.

Governor Ige was asked about OCCC’s outbreak earlier Tuesday at a press conference and replied: “We do have several contingency plans to look at OCCC and ensure that the workers, as well as the inmates, can be kept healthy and safe,”

DPS released a statement to KHON2: “The Department of Public Safety will continue to engage in on-going discussions with UPW to resolve concerns expressed by our employees. Together, we will navigate through the unprecedented challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic impacting our state and facilities.”

The Hawaii State Senate met Tuesday to discuss COVID-19 at Hawaii’s prisons. Public Safety chair Clarence Nishihara called for oversight and a possible investigation.

“A perfect storm of infection that should’ve been avoided, should’ve been thought of, and what can I say about that? I think it’s clearly one a lack of leadership or foresight of which had lead to today,” Nishihara said.

To date 242 inmates and 47 staff have tested positive for COVID-19.

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