MCCC has 20% corrections officer vacancies

State recruiting candidates to fly to Maui to fill posts

The state Department of Public Safety is recruiting adult corrections officers from across the state to fill shifts at Maui Community Correctional Center. The Wailuku jail as 33 vacancies out of a corrections officer staff of 167. Other corrections officers are on workers’ comp and some are taking family and medical leave days. This photo of the jail was taken in August. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

In an effort to boost staffing at Maui Community Correctional Center, the state Department of Public Safety has begun recruiting adult corrections officers from across the state to temporarily fill 33 vacancies at the Maui jail.

According to an internal memo June 4 to “all interested adult corrections officers,” Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda said that the corrections officers would be flown to and from Maui for a week at a time to provide coverage at the Wailuku facility.

When asked if the shortage is related to the inmate riot in March and subsequent inmate escapes, department spokeswoman Toni Schwartz said earlier this week that “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.”

On March 11, inmates broke fire sprinklers, started a fire in the common areas, broke cell doors, windows and caused millions of dollars in damage at MCCC. Inmates said that the riot was sparked by unrepaired broken phones, but other factors included overcrowding, no mail delivery and poor food. Both inmates and corrections officers said they feared for their lives during the incident.

Schwartz said Maui police still are actively investigating the riot. Maui County Prosecutor Don Guzman said Thursday that his office has not received any reports on the riot from police.

The Public Safety Department said it sent more than 30 inmates who instigated and were aggressively involved in the riot to Halawa Correctional Facility on Oahu following its internal investigation.

For those guards wanting to temporarily work on Maui, hotel, airfare, ground transportation and per diem, including meal allowance, will be paid for by the department, according to the memo given to The Maui News by a jail employee, who sought anonymity because the worker was not authorized to share the document with the media.

The memo said that overtime shifts “are more than likely a possibility.”

Espinda explains in the memo that finding officers is difficult across the state, but that MCCC is “extremely short staffed, where ACOs have been routinely working 16 hours.”

“Temporary relief is essential,” he said.

Schwartz said that out of 167 corrections officer positions at the Wailuku jail there are 33 vacancies — about 20 percent of the staff. There also are 22 officers who are out on workers’ compensation.

Another 63 employees have been granted federal family and medical leave. The corrections officers can take leave any day if needed for medical reasons, but this does not mean they are out for extended periods, Schwartz said.

The Public Safety Department also announced Friday that one of the 21 graduates of the most recent nine-week adult corrections officer training program is being assigned to MCCC. A graduation ceremony was held on Oahu on Friday.

Many Maui jail staffers have been working double shifts, or 16 hours, three to five times a week to cover open shifts. Each shift is eight hours, Schwartz added.

As far as when corrections officers will be arriving on Maui, Schwartz said the program’s budget and the amount of officers and from where they will come are still being worked out.

Given the staff shortage, Schwartz was asked if overworked corrections officers and the general public safe? She replied that the department “has regularly expressed, in all possible forums, our deep concerns for the admitted overcrowded conditions in our jails across the state.”

She said that until more bed spaces across the state become a reality, the department will do all that it can to “operate safe, secure, clean and constitutionally compliant facilities across the state.”

Schwartz said the department is “very appreciative” of the Legislature’s efforts to fund additional capacity projects across the state. On tap is a $7.5 million, 80-inmate module at the Wailuku jail. The 2017 Legislature appropriated construction funds for the project; construction is expected to begin next year with completion in 2021.

Currently, there are 380 inmates at MCCC. The jail was designed for 301. At times the jail has seen upward of 450 inmates.

Recruitment of corrections officers continues statewide. Maui’s recruitment is continuous, but the latest solicitation closes July 31 for Kauai, Oahu and Hawaii island.

Applicants must be a high school graduate or have a GED diploma by passing a high school equivalency test. They also must have one year of responsible work experience, which shows that the applicant possesses the ability to relate effectively with people, to follow instructions of a supervisor and to give and exchange information, according to a news release.

For more information for the Maui job posting see: agency.governmentjobs.com/hawaii/job_bulletin.cfm?jobID=2457772&sharedWindow=0

* Staff Writer Dakota Grossman contributed to this report. Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.