Maui Community Correctional Center, Wailuku, Hawaii
March 11, 2019
Following a failed negotiation session with a jail official over broken phones, a large group of prisoners refused to return to their cells at the end of recreation time and instead caused “significant damage” to prison infrastructure. According to the Department of Public Safety, only 42 prisoners participated and the rebellion was limited to two pods of the housing unit, but this account was later contradicted in a letter written by jail staff (full letter below) in which they describe how 200 inmates from four modules actually participated in the uprising.
Prisoners broke sprinklers, flooded the pods, and started fires which caused smoke damage to neighboring pods. According to jail staff, “They lit numerous class A, B, & C fires throughout the Modules burning mattresses, plastic chairs, wooden tables, linens, blankets, sheets, uniforms, toilet paper, trash and cleaning chemicals were all used as fuel. They even attempted to burn officers alive in the Control Boxes forcing them to evacuate.”
The uprising eventually had to be quelled with the use of pepper spray. Two prisoners and three staff members sustained minor injuries during the disturbance. The length of the disorder is also disputed with the police claiming that the uprising lasted 3 1/2 hours while the jail staff claim it went on for closer to 8 hours.
The head of the Public Safety Department linked the uprising to the effects of overcrowding. “I’m sure that, generally speaking, overcrowding in the institution was a major contributor.”
According to a letter from a prisoner obtained by The Maui News, the uprising broke out after a jail official responded to prisoners’ concerns about broken phones with what prisoners considered to be “lies.” More generally, the uprising occurred because of “unstable, inhumane conditions and unconstitutional living conditions.” According to the article “The inmate cited overcrowding, delayed repairs, uncollected mail, broken phones, among other things, as conditions that precipitated the riot.”
The prisoner also reported that the fire was large and “burned from the floor to ceiling.”
The conditions of overcrowding and deteriorating infrastructure has been a source of repeated fines and lawsuits in the past. Last year, the state estimated that MCCC was about 60% over capacity with 301 beds and over 470 prisoners.
Executive Director Joshua Wisch of the ACLU of Hawaii told KHON 2:
“We do not know the specific causes of the disturbance on Maui so are limited in what we can say at this time, but in general the ACLU of Hawai’i has raised concerns for years about unsafe conditions in all our jails and prisons, including significant overcrowding at the Maui Community Correctional Center. That is why we filed a formal complaint about prison and jail conditions in Hawai’i with the U.S. Department of Justice in 2017. We will be monitoring the situation as we learn more.”
Three days after the uprising, amidst an ongoing investigation, the Department of Public Safety transferred 21 prisoners –all pretrial detainees– who they say “aggressively participated” in the uprising from Maui Community Correctional Facility to the Halawa Correctional Facility. As the investigation continued, a piece of evidence went missing. The Department of Public Safety said as they were collecting evidence, they noticed a SIM card containing video of the incident was missing. Attempts to recover the card have so far failed.
Prison staff reported that contamination from the fires continues to be a major issue that the prison is refusing to address:
“The direct aftermath of these riots have resulted in an inhumane, uninhabitable, life threatening environment; but, for the Department of Public Safety and our Supervisors it’s “business as usual”. Inmates are being forced to live in these conditions and we’re being forced to work in these conditions with no protective gear. No abatement processes have been carried out and the air in the Modules contain life threatening particles due to the burning of hazardous materials and toxic chemicals.”
In February 2019, more than 44 percent of the total population in Hawaii’s four jails were pretrial detainees.
MCCC was the site of a prisoner protest in April, 2018 in which prisoners refused to return to their cells and expressed demands for the improvement of various conditions. Nearly a near later, conditions at the jail remain desperate.
Letter from Maui Community … by on Scribd
“Maui Community Correctional Center remains under lockdown after inmate disturbance“, Star Advertiser, March 11, 2019.
“Overcrowding could be cause of MCCC disturbance, says PSD“, KHON 2, March 12, 2019.
“3 staffers injured in disturbance at Maui Community Correctional Center, DPS says“, Star Advertiser, March 12, 2019.
“21 inmates identified in MCCC disturbance transferred to Halawa Correctional Facility“, Hawaii Department of Public Safety, March 14, 2019.
“21 Maui Inmates Transferred to Halawa After Riot“, Honolulu Civil Beat, March 14, 2019.
“Maui jail staff describe actions and fear during riot“, The Honolulu Star Advertiser, April 3, 2019.
“Hawaii Struggles as Overcrowding in Corrections Worsens“, Correctional News, May 2, 2018.
“Issues at MCCC lead to $37,490 in fines“, The Maui News, September 26, 2018.
“Maui Riot Just The Latest Sign Of Trouble In State’s Overcrowded Jails“, Honolulu Civil Beat, March 15, 2019.
“Evidence in the riot at Maui Prison is missing“, KHON2, April 4, 2019.