On Monday, March 11, the Maui Police Department was called to assist Maui Community Correctional Center in quelling a “disturbance” caused by inmates who refused to follow directives to return to their cells, and instead started a fire. According to a statement released by the Hawai‘i Department of Public Safety, 42 inmates refused to follow the order, while 52 complied. The non-compliant inmates broke fire sprinklers and barricaded themselves within the module. Over the course of two hours, MPD and MCCC negotiated with and “secured” the inmates until the situation was declared contained.
Hawai‘i DPS stated that no inmate injuries were reported, although significant damage was sustained within the modules.
Following the assault of corrections officer Bert Sam Fong in October 2018 at the hands of an inmate (reportedly, Fong is still recovering from the attack), the incident is the latest sign that the chronically overcrowded MCCC may have reached its breaking point.
In April of 2018, MauiTime reported on a similar, though less severe, incident where inmates organized more of a sit-in than a riot. “The inmates refused the order [to return to their cells] and said they wanted to express their frustration with the phone system, a damaged television in the common area of their module, and the absence of rice with some of their meals over the past few days,” DPS spokesperson Toni Schwartz explained at the time.
In August, MCCC and DPS were fined for two items totalling $16,300 (the penalties were later mitigated to $8,150, Schwartz said) deemed “serious” by the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations. The fines were related to the fire control system which has been an ongoing problem since 2015.
Basically, it’s a powder keg exacerbated by pressures of overcrowding and failings to properly maintain and update the correctional center. If the incidents from the last year are any indication of where this is headed in the future, it’s clear that something must be done immediately – or the next fire could be the one that blows up the whole thing.
Image courtesy Maui 24/7