How can Hawaii State Hospital prevent another embarrassing escape?

Changes are already in the works at Hawaii State Hospital after a recent high-profile escape, but state lawmakers say there needs to be more.

Randall Saito’s escape last November made headlines across the nation. It was a huge embarrassment to the state.

Hospital officials faced lawmakers Friday to explain what can be done to prevent it from happening again.

Questions still remain as to how exactly he made it all the way to California.

Hospital officials say they consulted with experts from Oahu Community Correctional Center and Halawa Correctional Facility on how to increase security measures and came up with a list of improvements.

Now we’re being told interior fencing is being installed to cover gaps. Ankle bracelets with GPS are being considered. Staff are being retrained, and more random inspections are being done for contraband.

The city is also asking the hospital to consider building a fence around its perimeter. That could cost $17 million to $24 million.

“This is not a new issue in terms of security,” said Sen. Jill Tokuda, D, Kaneohe, Kailua. “We’ve given them additional resources in the past. We’ve talked about fencing. We’ve built fencing. We have to start doing this right.”

Tokuda remains skeptical, and also wonders why incoming mail for patients are not checked regularly.

Court documents say Saito obtained fake IDs, cell phones, and thousands of dollars in cash.

“Should you be entitled rights like free citizens to get mail unchecked, unfettered? Because to me, you will be allowed to receive contraband that you otherwise would not have should you be under the care of Public Safety,” she said.

“If we have a reason to suspect something may not be appropriate, we will open the mail in front of the patient. In absence of that, we do not do it,” state hospital administrator Dr. William May responded.

The state attorney general says how Saito was able to get that contraband remains under investigation.

The fake IDs are also a concern for U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who now wants a Congress subcommittee to question the Transportation Security Administration.

Hanabusa says she wants officials “to look into this, not from the perspective of terrorists, but just from the perspective of how can people get through and how secure is the identification system that we are using?”

Hanabusa says it undermines the integrity of the whole security system if TSA can’t figure this out.

“We’re supposed to be safe in terms of that kind of flying, and so who would have thought that somebody like Randall Saito could make it all the way through?” she said.

Officials aren’t yet saying whether he got inside help, or how much.

Seven workers were suspended without pay shortly after Saito’s escape.

Six of them are now getting paid because they’re in the union and, as part of collective bargaining, have to get paid after 30 days even if they’re suspended.

The seventh suspended worker is not a union employee.

We’ve also learned that an additional worker was suspended without pay a few days ago in connection to Saito’s escape.

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