Maybe White is just what DPS needs
One of the grimmest snake pits in Hawaii goes by its initials: O-triple-C, the Oahu Community Correctional Center.
It was designed to hold 628 inmates and has an "operational capacity of 954." Some days the population is more than 1,100 men and women prisoners. This is where you go if you are found guilty of a crime with a punishment of one year or less. It also is where you go if you can't make bail.
Recently the state released a federal report done on OCCC in 2005. The study zeroed in on how the state treats prisoners with mental illness. This is what it said:
"Certain conditions at the jail violate the constitutional rights of the detainees confined there and subject those detainees to harm and risk of harm."
The state said it had corrected many of the problems noted in the report and was asking the Legislature for money to fix other problems. No mention was made of how much explosives would be needed to blow the place up and start over, but that is clearly what is needed.
The report said violent prisoners who showed signs of mental illness were told that if they didn't behave they would be given "therapeutic lockdown." That's not a special form of psychiatric care. It means putting a prisoner alone in a cell with no "privileges (such as) reading materials, cigarettes or social interaction with staff or detainees."
Some prisoners were in "therapeutic lockdown" for days or weeks. Others were tied to a bed with restraints on their wrists and ankles.
This is the system that Iwalani White inherited when she was appointed as director of public safety by Gov. Linda Lingle. The former first deputy for the Honolulu city prosecutor has her own stories to tell.
White grew up in Kuhio Park Terrace in circumstances social workers call "socially disadvantaged." Later, although struggling as an unwed mother, White made it through the University of Hawaii, went to law school, got a job with the prosecutor, was named a district court judge with the family court in 1992, rejoined the prosecutor's office in 1997 and was just named as public safety director.
The Department of Public Safety employees have not been doing a conga line down Dillingham Boulevard to celebrate her appointment. Nine current and former employees were subpoenaed to testify when White came up for confirmation in the Senate. All nine were against her.
She micromanages, she is unfair, she doesn't have a plan and she has no experience, said her critics.
DPS has been a problem since Ben Cayetano was governor. The overtime abuse is a sucking wound in the state budget; the department has had, depending on how you count them, either five or six directors since Lingle became governor.
The question before the Senate might wind up being not "is White up to the job," but "why does she want it?"