Security flaw among problems facing Hawaii’s correctional centers

Oahu Community Correctional Center

Daniel Skelton, the inmate who escaped from Oahu Community Correctional Center Monday morning, was still on the loose Monday night.

Skelton’s escape was the second from OCCC in as many weeks. But unlike the inmate last week, Skelton was not out on work furlough.

Prison officials said Skelton broke out of the jail through the ceiling, made it onto the roof, then somehow made it over or through the barbed wire fence.

The 23-year-old was discovered missing during the 6 a.m. head count.

Officials say Skelton was being held in a building that was actually built for the work furlough program, but because of overcrowding, it was converted into cells for medium security inmates.

“He may have been able to pry open some boards, again it’s a wooden building it wasn’t really built for this kind of inmate. He was able to pry some boards up there and get out from the crawl space onto the roof,” said Dept. of Public Safety Director Ted Sakai.

None of the guards saw him escape and no alarms went off, according to officials.

“This situation looks like or sounds like something that would’ve happened in a TV drama or movie where an inmate found a weak spot or vulnerability in the system and he was able to exploit it and get out,” Sen. Will Espero, (D) Public Safety Chair said.

It didn’t take long for Skelton to figure out how to break out of OCCC. He was brought to OCCC on June 4 after violating his probation terms in connection with a burglary conviction.

“He was admitted on June 4, so 12 days ago, pretty good,” Sakai said.

“Our jails and prisons should be 110-percent escape-proof and obviously that is not the case,” Espero said.

Skelton’s escape is one of several problems the Dept. of Public Safety’s Corrections Division is facing. Another is the constant cancellation of inmate visits because of staffing shortages.

While DPS says the guard towers at OCCC were fully staffed when Skelton escaped, there seems to be a major shortage on the weekends.

The Senate has scheduled a public hearing to work toward a solution.

“This has been an ongoing problem that I know has been going on for decades and it’s still going on,” Sen. Espero said. “It’s unfortunate. You have Mother’s Day, for example, you have to cancel family visits and it’s really bad when we hear on Super Bowl Sunday a large number of ACOs (adult corrections officers) call in sick.”

Sen. Espero scheduled a public hearing for Wednesday, June 18 at 1 p.m. in conference room 224 at the State Capitol. DPS officials will be there.

“I would like to check with the department to see exactly what solutions they’re thinking about, what they’re looking at implementing and how we can make sure these are minimized or eliminated,” he said.

The last time an inmate broke out of OCCC was nearly 10 years ago when, on December 20, 2004, Michael Ventura scaled the fence that surrounds the jail. He was captured the next morning.

A DPS spokesperson said Ventura was released on probation in June 2009.

The majority of escape cases have to do with work furlough walkaways, and such was the case with Allan Abihai. He went out on work furlough last Tuesday morning and didn’t return that night like he was supposed to.

Abihai is a convicted sex offender.

If you have any information on the whereabouts of Abihai or Skelton, call 911.

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