Staff allege that the number of inmates who tested positive at the Halawa Correctional Facility is higher than official figures.

Official data released last week shows that more than one-fourth of 64 drug tests conducted at Halawa Correctional Facility were positive or presumed positive over the first two months of this year. But staff at the prison say the number of inmates who tested positive for drug use is actually much higher.

The staff asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation but said it is important to inform the public about the surge in drug smuggling and use inside Hawaii’s largest prison so that additional resources can be committed to cope with the problem.

“We need help, and the warden needs help really recognizing that we have a drug problem,” said one staffer.

Halawa Correctional Facility tour 2019.
Staff at Halawa Correctional Facility say drug test results that show use of methamphetamine and Ecstasy has increased among the prison inmates. Prison officials dispute those claims.(Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019)

The state Department of Public Safety released drug testing data on Friday that showed there were 64 drug tests during January and February. Of those tests, the official data showed three were positive for methamphetamine, three for marijuana and one for the sedative benzodiazepine.

Another 10 inmates refused to be tested, and Public Safety spokeswoman Toni Schwartz said those refusals result in an “inference of guilt of a positive test.” That finding then results in misconduct sanctions for the prisoners, she said in a written statement.

When asked if that is an unusually large number of positive drug tests, she replied: “No number of positive tests are considered acceptable. Unfortunately, contraband, including drugs, is an on-going battle for correctional systems across the nation. The facilities work very hard to monitor and eliminate contraband pathways.”

But prison staff who spoke on condition of anonymity disputed that official account of the testing at Halawa, saying far more than 64 drug tests were conducted in January and February.

Testing done in January made it clear methamphetamine was finding its way into the prison and prompted cell searches or “shakedowns” along with additional drug testing of inmates in three housing units, the staff said. Dozens of prisoners tested positive for meth or Ecstasy use in that crackdown, the staff added.

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Staff at Halawa also cited an incident this year in which the majority of 25 prisoners being transferred from the medium-security Halawa prison to the minimum-security Waiawa Correctional Facility failed pre-admission drug testing and were immediately returned to Halawa.

But Schwartz said that account is false and the testing data provided by Public Safety is correct. “Inmates did not come from Halawa, test positive and get immediately sent back to Halawa,” she wrote in the statement.

“Inmates move back and forth based on changes to their custody level,” Schwartz wrote. “If an inmate’s custody level changes to anything above minimum, they are sent to Halawa.”

“All of the correctional facilities conduct frequent, routine shakedowns for contraband as part of the on-going effort to keep contraband out of the facilities,” she added.

The Halawa Correctional Facility visitor area has a plexiglass barrier that separates inmates from visitors, which suggests drugs and other contraband must enter the facility through some other means. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2015)

Halawa ended contact visits for family and friends of inmates in 2014, and plexiglass barriers now separate prisoners from visitors. Schwartz said at the time that the barriers had eliminated a “major contraband pathway.”

However, drugs continue to get into the facility, raising the question of who may be involved.

Some national advocates have been critical of decisions in other states to eliminate contact visits, pointing out that prison employees are frequently found to be the people responsible for smuggling drugs and other contraband inside.

In fact, a number of prison staffers at Halawa have been accused or convicted of smuggling drugs and cigarettes into the facility over the years, and corrections officials have acknowledged prison gangs frequently control the flow of contraband inside.

One official who is familiar with operations at Halawa, who also spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to release the information, said security screening of staff as they enter the facility is lax at times. Halawa has about 330 authorized positions for corrections officers, although not all of those positions are filled.

Schwartz said that “all staff are required to go through screening upon entering and exiting all facilities.”

Drug use in the prison has proved to be fatal for some. Two inmates died at Halawa in 2021 after ingesting a synthetic designer drug known as spice. It is still unknown how Kanikahekili Cuizon, 38, and Noa Mamala, 30, obtained the drug.

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