State looks at improving prison security

On Monday, 45-year-old Mark Damas appeared in federal court with his wife and three sons nearby.

Meanwhile, the state admits security at our prisons needs to improved.

“He’s a long-term, lifelong member of the community and this affects him and his family greatly so he’s very concerned about this,” said Rustam Barbee, attorney.

The attorney for Damas says there’s no indication his client uses drugs. Damas, released on a $50,000 bond, remains employed by the Department of Public Safety, where he has been for almost 10 years.

“We have correctional officers that are willing to compromise themselves, risk their careers, in order to do this,” DPS Director Ted Sakai said.

Sakai admits security among employees need to be tightened.

“Are they searched right now before they enter the facility?” KHON2 asked.

“Yes, they are, but obviously we may need to do more,” Sakai said.

He cannot confirm exactly what goes on when employees enter the prisons.

“They should be patted down,” Sakai said.

“But are they being patted down?” KHON2 asked.

“I can’t say for sure because I’m not there,” Sakai said.

Sen. Will Espero, (D) Ewa, Ewa Beach, who chairs the Senate Public Safety Committee, says security has become lax, and says some officers are not being searched like they should be.

“I hear it from inmates and other employees as well,” Sen. Espero said.

“And have you talked to director about that?” KHON2 asked.

“Yes,” Sen. Espero said.

“And what has he said?” KHON2 asked.

“They try their best,” Sen. Espero said.

Sen. Espero also says there’s a drug-detection machine at Halawa that isn’t been used. The state says it’s been broken for years and using it on employees, or any kind of tightened security, needs to be approved by the corrections’ officers union, UPW. The state and FBI will not say how many more officers they’re investigating.

“Obviously, it’s been happening. We don’t know how much more there is. When we have things like this happen, when we arrest officers, I think they’ll tend to go underground,” Sakai said.

The state also says in recent weeks, two visitors were caught trying to smuggle drugs into the prisons. Sakai says security needs to be tightened with visitors as well.

Related story: Another Halawa corrections officer arrested for drug charges

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