HONOLULU — Inmates at Hawaii’s women’s prison weren’t able to visit with their children on Mother’s Day because not enough guards showed up for work.
The state Department of Public Safety has been struggling with guards calling in sick and other time-off abuses that have frequently forced the cancellation of family visits at various Hawaii prisons.
Only nine out of 29 officers assigned for duty came to work on Sunday at the Women’s Community Correctional Center in Kailua, said department spokeswoman Toni Schwartz. “The 20 officers who didn’t come in weren’t all sick leave,” she said, citing other reasons for absences including those out on workers’ compensation, those taking time through the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, and workers who are temporarily assigned somewhere else to help with duties such as training.
“Holidays tend to be a little bit more problematic when it comes to staffing,” Schwartz said. “We do tend to have more of a skeleton crew on holidays. … Mother’s Day just happens to fall on a visitation day.”
But Keiki O Ka Aina, an organization that helps families affected by incarceration, hosted a kids’ day at the prison on Saturday, where 24 inmates spent time with their children.
Schwartz said scheduled visits for two of the facility’s four cottages were held on Saturday.
“Most of them who wanted to see their kids got to do that on Saturday,” she said, noting that some women are court-ordered not to have contact with their children.
About two-thirds of the facility’s 248 inmates are mothers. It’s the state’s only facility for women and houses inmates with security levels from minimum to maximum.
“It’s really heartbreaking,” Kat Brady, coordinator of the Community Alliance on Prisons, said of Sunday’s cancellation.
A family visit “provides hope, it maintains connections,” said Brady, whose organization advocates for prisoners. “It’s really sad to me, because the research even shows visitation is a really good management strategy. When (inmates) know they are going to have visits that weekend … they don’t want to do anything to jeopardize that.”
In recent months, staffing shortages have canceled family visits at various facilities including Oahu Community Correctional Center, Halawa Correctional Facility and the Big Island’s Hawaii Community Correctional Center.
The last time visits were canceled at the women’s facility was April 13.
“We know that visitation is very important for the inmates and their families, and do everything we can to facilitate visits, but safety is always going to be the top priority,” Schwartz said.
Canceled visits at the women’s facility haven’t been as big of a problem as they have been for other prisons, Brady said.
“Usually we don’t have that problem at the women’s,” she said. “It’s really disturbing to me. I guess you could say it’s quite a statement — on Mother’s Day we’re not making that special effort to make sure moms and their kids are connected.”