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Outdated staffing analysis leads to problems at jails and prisons, state audit finds

barbed wire in front of a jail or prison tower
Sabrina Bodon
/
HPR
Oʻahu Community Correctional Center on Oct. 24, 2022.

The state is not collecting the data necessary to determine how many Adult Correctional Officers, or ACOs, are needed to safely operate a jail or prison, according to a state audit.

"Now we found the shift relief factor that the department uses is severely out of date and without an up-to-date accurate shift relief factor, our finding is the department does not know its staffing needs," said state auditor Les Kondo.

Kondo released an audit earlier this year on the state Department of Public Safety's shift relief factor — a staffing metric or equation that takes into account absences or holidays. Those factor into how to securely staff a work shift.

"Now, I want to make clear we're not saying that the department or the wardens don't know where ACOs are needed in their respective facilities or the number of ACOs that are needed to cover those posts in their respective facilities. This finding is that the department does not know the number of positions it needs to cover its security posts without resorting to other means," Kondo said.

If there are staffing shortages at a facility, that means nonessential posts are reassigned. The shortage also affects how those who are incarcerated are allowed to move around a facility. It also means potential overtime or emergency hires.

oahu community correctional facility jail prison
Sabrina Bodon
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HPR
An inmate's bed and personal items at the Oʻahu Community Correctional Center on Oct. 24, 2022.

The last time the state calculated its optimal shift factor was in the 70s. Kondo says an inaccurate shift relief factor results in excessive overtime and overwork.

"The additional effects of an inaccurate shift relief factor, you have tired, stressed out staff. You have low morale. You have safety issues that are caused by tired staff. You have excessive leave use, which really just kind of is a snowball effect in terms of your ability or the department's ability to retain staff, to recruit staff, to keep morale up and to have people come to work when they're assigned to come to work," Kondo told HPR.

Max Otani, the director of the Department of Public Safety, did not disagree with Kondo and pointed to retention efforts.

"What we did was we really pressed the need to fill vacant positions, which I think, you know, we've done our best. We started to address other issues like attendance and workmen's comp issues, you know, hopefully, the message gets out that we're serious, come to work," Otani said.

Oahu Community Correctional Center Acting Warden Lyle Kawamata
Sabrina Bodon
/
HPR
Oʻahu Community Correctional Center Acting Warden Lyle Kawamata speaks during a press tour of the facility on Monday, Oct. 24, 2022.

Oʻahu Community Correctional Center Acting Warden Lyle Kawamata sees it as a balancing act.

"Every department has the same issues. And yes, it does hinder operation, it makes it much harder to provide all the services necessary. So we do the best so long we can ensure safety and security first," Kawamata said.

Jose Rodriguez-Rosa is the acting chief of safety at OCCC. He’s impacted by staffing shortages daily.

"Most of our operations are done on second watch when we have the most manpower. On third watch, there's a lot less movements. So it's easier to do more controlled movements. But yeah, we need more officers. I'm never gonna deny that fact," Rodriguez-Rosa said.

Sabrina Bodon is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Contact her at sbodon@hawaiipublicradio.org or 808-792-8252.
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