Here are some numbers to contemplate as Sunday’s Super Bowl approaches.

— About $115 million in wagers will be at stake.

— About 1.25 billion chicken wings will be consumed.

— About 25.7 million tweets will be sent.

— Dozens and dozens of Hawaii prison guards will call in sick, forcing the state to cancel visits to inmates and pay overtime to other guards to maintain sufficient staffing.

The first three figures are courtesy of the social network WalletHub. The last, sadly, reflects local history, and you don’t have to look any further than the Oahu Community Correctional Center in Kalihi.


The Oahu Community Correctional Center in Kalihi.

Chad Blair/Civil Beat

Last year 68 guards at OCCC — about a third of the 214 guards scheduled to work — called in sick on Super Bowl Sunday. The year before, 69 guards were no-shows.

Prison guards’ year-round abuse of sick leave has been well documented in the media, including a recent Civil Beat column. It’s a frequent topic at the State Capitol, where legislators bemoan the fact that OCCC alone saps $2.6 million a year in overtime costs from the cash-strapped state budget.

Those of us who have a better work ethic should chew on this: Prison guards use an average of 32 hours of sick leave per month, according to Department of Public Safety director Ted Sakai.

That’s four sick days per month on average, or 48 days per year. Their contract allows 21 paid sick days per year, meaning the rest are unpaid but still allowed if they qualify for the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. And most of them do.

The federal law entitles qualified applicants up to 60 unpaid days off to treat their own serious illnesses or to care for family members. There was an audible gasp from legislators last year when Sakai told them that more than half of Hawaii’s prison guards qualify.

And remember, while after 21 days the time off is unpaid, guards can easily compensate for that by working overtime when their colleagues call in sick.

The union’s silence speaks volumes to its members: If you’re so inclined, go ahead and abuse the system for personal gain while bilking the people of Hawaii and undermining prisoners’ most basic rights.

The Public Safety Department says one guard filling in for absent employees last year took in $104,169 in overtime. Another at the women’s prison earned $75,573 in overtime. A guard at the jail on the Big Island made $67,462 in overtime.

It all adds up to what columnist Denby Fawcett accurately described as a “climate of corruption” that causes prisons to be more expensive and less safe.

When guards work overtime to cover for others, they are often playing out of position. They may also be piling up the extra hours at the end of their regular shifts. Tired and possibly not completely familiar with the work they’re doing, they’re more likely to make mistakes.

Prisons are also more dangerous when the inmates are agitated, and how can they not be when they lose their human bridge to the outside world?

Hardly a weekend passes without at least one of Hawaii’s eight prisons having to cancel visits for inmates.

The Department of Public Safety even sends out notifications through social media so that people can know if they’ll be able to visit inmates on the regularly scheduled days.

That’s a good idea under the circumstances, but something is wrong when a pubic agency has to regularly send notifications as to whether it’s doing its job or not.

So what’s to be done about all this? Don’t ask leaders of the United Public Workers union — they refuse to talk about it to the news media or to legislators.

The union’s silence speaks volumes to its members: If you’re so inclined, go ahead and abuse the system for personal gain while bilking the people of Hawaii and undermining prisoners’ most basic rights.

Most of Hawaii’s public employees, including prison guards who work in an especially stressful environment, are doing their best to serve the public. They deserve livable wages and generous benefits, and the unions are clearly effective in making sure workers get just that.

But in the face of rampant workplace abuse, those unions have a responsibility to help solve the problem. Otherwise, they must again get what they deserve: a less-lucrative, more restrictive contract the next time they negotiate with the state.

Meanwhile, the process can easily be tweaked. Most of us have to speak to our supervisors when we call in sick. Prison guards call a hotline and leave a message.

Make them talk to their bosses, and make those bosses explain to their higher-ups why they can’t seem to field a full team.

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