State promises change after losing millions in inmate-related settlements

Local News

Changes are being promised for Hawaii’s correctional system after a mishap that cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

It’s a story we’ve been following since we learned $7.2 million will be paid to Aaron Persin.

He lost his legs and sued the state, alleging he did not receive proper medical attention at Oahu Community Correctional Center.

This is not the first time the Department of Public Safety has had to pay for an inmate for something that happened behind bars.

KHON2 wanted to know what the department is doing to change its practices so others won’t suffer the same fate and taxpayers won’t have to foot the bill.

While officials promised change, they wouldn’t offer specifics, so we turned to the attorney general and lawmakers for answers.

In 2011, Persin lost both his legs and all his fingers after suffering an injury while in state custody.

“It sounds like something that happens in a third-world country, in a third-world facility,” said Sen. Will Espero, D, public safety committee vice chair.

It might have been prevented with the proper medical care. “They didn’t treat him. They never gave him care,” said Persin’s attorney, Richard Turbin.

The result was a $7.2 million settlement — $4 million of that money is being paid by taxpayers, the other $3.2 million will be covered by insurance.

How did this happen? Why didn’t Persin receive better treatment? Who is responsible?

These were all questions KHON2 asked the Department of Public Safety, but the only answer we received was that they do have plans to improve services. Instead, officials referred us to Attorney General Doug Chin for more details.

“We have met with them and they know how important it is to improve the level of care that they need in the facilities,” said Chin.

From 2011-2013, the state paid out more than $1.3 million to settle claims, and the latest $7.2 million settlement has one lawmaker wanting changes.

“When you look at the dollar amount in excess of seven figures, one wonders what is going on with this division and people who are working there,” said Espero. “I want to get down to the bottom of this. Someone certainly needs to be held accountable and maybe even terminated because of this situation.”

“Even though it happened four years ago, it is a good call to think about trying to improve care at the prisons,” said Chin.

The Department of Public Safety says it plans to brief lawmakers about potential changes before answering our questions.

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