A total of seven Hawaii convicts have now tested positive for COVID-19 at the privately run Saguaro Correctional Center in Arizona, prompting some inmate advocates to urge more widespread testing of the Hawaii prisoners who are being held there.

Prison operator CoreCivic reported the first positive result for a Hawaii inmate at Saguaro last week.

The Hawaii Department of Public Safety says that 810 Hawaii inmates at Saguaro have now been placed in precautionary 14-day quarantine, and Acting Public Safety Director Fred Hyun said Thursday he has been assured that CoreCivic has the situation under control.

During a meeting of the Hawaii Correctional System Oversight Commission on Thursday, Hawaii attorney Carrie Ann Shirota told Hyun she has heard from two inmates at Saguaro who have symptoms similar to COVID-19, but have not been tested.

She urged Hawaii officials to require CoreCivic to implement universal testing, or at least test inmates with symptoms.

Hyun did not reply to Shirota’s comments during the meeting, and Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Toni Schwartz also declined to address the same inquiry about expanded testing when it was submitted to her in writing after the meeting.

Schwartz would say only in a written statement that “Saguaro assures PSD they are following (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines for testing of incarcerated individuals and continue to implement stringent sanitation and hygiene measures to limit potential exposure and prevent the spread of coronavirus to inmates and staff.”

COVID-19 spread rapidly through Oahu Community Correctional Center earlier this year, but there are fewer movements of inmates in and out of the Saguaro prison, which should make it easier to prevent the spread of the virus.

A total of 1,083 Hawaii prisoners are being housed at Saguaro because there is no room for them in the state prison system.

Visits at Saguaro were suspended as of March 18 as a precaution, and Saguaro nursing staff are doing daily temperature checks and monitoring the inmates for symptoms. The prison has also implemented a program of temperature screening for staff who enter the facility.

CoreCivic has also screened the Hawaii population to identify inmates who are at higher risk from the disease because of preexisting health problems. Those inmates were being moved to separate housing units away from the general population, according to prison officials.

Help power our public service journalism

As a local newsroom, Civil Beat has a unique public service role in times of crisis.

That’s why we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content, so we can get vital information out to everyone, from all communities.

We are deploying a significant amount of our resources to covering the Maui fires, and your support ensures that we can pivot when these types of emergencies arise.

Make a gift to Civil Beat today and help power our nonprofit newsroom.

About the Author