The state Department of Public Safety wants to add 15 new correctional officer positions at the Maui jail even though it can’t fill the more than 40 vacancies it already has.

Director Nolan Espinda laid out his department’s budget needs to the House Finance Committee Monday. Many of his budget requests addressed overcrowding and disrepair at the state’s correctional facilities.

Overcrowding at the Maui Community Correctional Center was cited as one of the causes of riots in March. Hawaii DPS

Maui Community Correctional Center is one of the most overcrowded of the state’s jails and prisons, operating at 40% over capacity. In March 2019, a group of inmates awaiting trial started a riot in one of the modules, resulting in more than $5 million in damage. Overcrowding has been cited as one of the primary causes.

The 15 new positions at MCCC would allow the jail to cover staff shortages caused by leaves and vacations, he said. The shortages have led to lockdowns and prisoner visits being cancelled.

But even as he made the case for the new positions, Espinda told state representatives that the Maui facility has 42 correctional officer vacancies.

Representatives wanted to know why. Espinda said the department faces many challenges to recruiting.  Other “preferred” law enforcement agencies, such as Maui police or the Transportation Security Administration, are trying to recruit the same workforce, he said.

Of 157 recent applicants, 100 failed to show up for the written test, he said.

The department is now offering a $7,500 signing bonus over a two-year period, he said.

“We will continue to fill these positions as best we can,” Espinda said.

Some legislators voiced skepticism. State Rep. Scot Matayoshi said it sounded like the vacancies aren’t going to get filled, and creating more positions with those same conditions and salaries doesn’t seem like a good idea.

“It doesn’t sound like this is a good solution to the problem at all,” he said.

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