© 2023 Hawaiʻi Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Former head of Hawaiʻi prisons Nolan Espinda dies at 65

Ashley Mizuo
Nolan Espinda

Nolan Espinda, the former head of Hawaiʻi prisons, was found dead Thursday in Kailua on Oʻahu. He was 65.

The Honolulu Civil Beat reports that he died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound at Kailua Beach.

Gov. David Ige said in a statement Friday, "Nolan Espinda’s career was spent serving the public in Hawaiʻi’s corrections facilities and administration, jobs that are always difficult and often thankless. I am saddened by this sudden and tragic loss, and I express my deepest appreciation for Nolan’s dedication and years of public service. I wish his family strength and comfort in the difficult days ahead."

Current DPS Director Max Otani said, in part, ”His tragic, untimely loss leaves us all stunned. We want to express our deepest condolences to his family and his PSD ʻohana.”

Espinda resigned from the Department of Public Safety in 2020 amid criticism surrounding a surge of COVID-19 cases in the prison system.

Ige appointed Espinda as public safety director in 2015. During his tenure, the department came under heavy scrutiny following an inmate riot at the Maui Community Correctional Center and the fatal shootings of two men by department personnel in separate incidents, including one at the state Capitol.

A surge of COVID-19 cases in 2020 at the Oʻahu Community Correctional Center, the state's largest correctional facility, led to calls for his ouster from the Hawaiʻi Government Employees Union and United Public Workers, the labor groups representing employees at the prison.

Born in 1957, Espinda was a 1975 ‘Iolani School alumnus and a graduate of California State University, Chico.

Malia Espinda released a statement Friday afternoon:

"My husband, Nolan Espinda, dedicated almost 40 years of his life to public service for the State of Hawaiʻi. Nolan was the most brilliant, visionary, and principled man I have ever known. ʻJust do the Right thing every timeʻ was his mantra and he held an unwavering core value of his personal responsibility to every taxpayer in Hawaiʻi. Nolan was a man of few words, but a man of strong actions and stronger convictions.  Acting on his convictions inevitably brought resistance and criticism from some who misunderstood his purpose. With the strength of his broad shoulders, Nolan endured through all, until he could no more. We have lost a beautiful, deeply loving man who his children and I will miss forever more."

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (En Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889) or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

Related Stories