Sick-Leave Abuse at State Facilities Must Be Stopped

Article excerpt

Here we go again: Another special day, another opportunity for unscru-pulous state employees to abuse the system.

Imagine any business operation scheduling 29 employees for duty, but only nine showing up. It's appalling -- but it's what happened at the Women's Community Correctional Center on Mother's Day, which then forced the cancellation of visits for the day.

Unfortunately, it was just the latest sick-day episode plaguing the state's prisons system. Since the start of the year, the Oahu Community Correctional Center has canceled a whopping 18 of 22 visitation days, due to staff shortages because adult corrections officers (ACOs) called in sick.

Outages tend to occur on weekends, especially around big sports events: on Super Bowl Sunday, for instance, about a third of 214 scheduled ACOs called in sick. Many of the guards who do show up work double shifts, which strains both alertness and the overtime budget. Prison overtime cost taxpayers $2.6 million in fiscal 2013.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie has made a vigorous push for returning Hawaii inmates from mainland prisons; about 30 percent of our inmates are on the mainland, and the state is nearing the end of a three-year, $136.5 million contract with a private operator housing some 1,700 Hawaii inmates in Arizona prisons.

Much of the rationale for return involves saving money, but much also is made about the rehabilitative benefits to inmates having family and a support system nearby.

Studies show that such interaction during incarceration does translate into more successful integration upon release and lowered recidivism -- and that's ultimately good for lowering crime in communities.

But that rationale sounds terribly tinny if the Abercrombie administration doesn't get a handle on chronic cancellation of visitation days, caused by staffers' overtime abuse; no visitation nullifies the need for prison proximity.

Adding to the alarm about the prisons situation were revelations this week about overtime abuse also occurring regularly at the Hawaii State Hospital in Kaneohe. …