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Female inmates urge jail upgrades

Two women inmates in Hilo’s jail say the bathrooms there are inadequate, unsanitary and potentially dangerous.

Ashley Soares and Chantelle Kalani, inmates at Hawaii Community Correctional Center’s Hale Nani Makai facility, wrote to the Tribune-Herald about conditions at the Panaewa facility.

In an undated letter postmarked June 12, Kalani said women “are being housed in an improper living facility.” She said the dorm-style facility, built in the early 1990s, was originally intended for community-status male offenders. A newer facility, Hale Nani Mauka, now houses the men, and women are in the two-room dormitory facility that houses pre-trial detainees in a 32-bunk room and sentenced women in another room with 32 bunks.

“All 64 female inmates share a washroom that consists of 3 toilets, 3 urinals, 4 showers and 5 sinks,” she wrote. “Due to the aging of the building our latrine has been going out of commission many times, leaving 1-2 toilets open (and) 3 to 4 sinks running. Our showers would be hot for approximately 5 people, then it will take about 15 min to re-heat again. Because of a time limit, many of us take cold showers.”

In a letter dated June 9 and postmarked June 10, Soares stated inmates and staff share the same bathroom facilities.

“None of the urinals work properly,” she wrote. “… One of them is cracked and could be a biohazard to us female inmates and staff. … As far as the toilets go, we are down to one toilet right now, because two of them have major leaks that keep flooding our bathroom stalls and the one that does work is sometimes very difficult to flush. I am very concerned about this matter and how it affects this community as a whole (also including pregnant women housed here at this facility).”

State Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Toni Schwartz said in a Tuesday night voicemail message that repairs have been made but problems have been ongoing.

“I was told that we fixed the toilets last week and when we last checked, they were running OK,” she said. “The reason why they keep on having water leaks is because they (inmates) kick the lever, causing the water seal to break. And they were told not to do that, but it still happens, so when the seal breaks the water starts leaking out of ’em.

“There was one day a little while ago when there was flooding in there, and they were literally told that the only option is the urinals because the only option was to fix the toilets again. I believe it was fixed, though.”

Schwartz said DPS has a problem with outdated facilities.

“Even that area is old,” she said. “And the population is climbing, and the facilities there are getting older.”

Schwartz also said it’s “no secret that overcrowding has been a problem for a long time but if the courts sentence ’em, we have to take ’em.” She noted, however, that at least recently, the women’s dorms at Hale Nani Makai haven’t been filled to capacity.

“That unit is supposed to hold 60 people. And as of the 13th, there were 44. The 16th, there was 45. The 17th, there was 44. So we’ve been running under the numbers that we could have in there,” she said.

“We do submit budget requests every year to get money to replace things and do upgrades. Our priorities right now are laundry, wastewater, the maintenance shop and upgrades. The laundry was the biggest priority, which was just done. Wastewater is being worked on. And the maintenance shop and upgrades, which includes toilets. … We’re in the middle of the proposal phase, so hopefully, we’ll get that soon.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune- herald.com.

 

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