Tuesday, March 2, 1999

Suicides spur isle
prisons to hire counselors,
review policies

By Gregg K. Kakesako


Four suicides at three of Hawaii's eight prisons have forced corrections officials to take "a hard look" at the way inmates are screened and processed.

The new procedure is to improve identification, placement and treatment of inmates who may hurt themselves or be suicidal.

State Public Safety Chief Ted Sakai agreed with earlier assessments that the four inmates, including entertainer Bryant Mackey Feary, fall within the profile of inmates awaiting sentencing or trial who are at greater risk.

Feary was being held at Halawa Correctional Facility and hanged himself Feb. 20 after losing a plea to return to a drug treatment program. He was facing a 10-year term.

All four deaths were by hanging.

Two other cases involved pretrial inmates at Oahu Community Correctional Center and Maui Community Correctional Center. The fourth died at Halawa, sent there because of the overcrowding conditions at OCCC.

Among actions taken by Sakai:

bullet Filling counseling staff vacancies at Halawa, especially one devoted to inmate intake, and mental health positions at other facilities. (Halawa is allocated four psychiatric social workers but because of budget cuts there is only one. A 1989 study had suggested six).

bullet Re-implementing mental health training programs for all correctional officers.

bullet Retaining a national consultant who specializes in correctional facility suicides to assess the way corrections handles intake, screening and potentially suicidal inmates.

bullet Working with the University of Hawaii to review the four suicide deaths to determine if there were a psychological pattern that led to these deaths.

bullet Giving more authority to correctional officers, social workers and other line officers to handle the daily inmate activities.

"Unfortunately, with all appropriate policies, procedures and actions in place, not all inmate suicides can be prevented," Sakai said. "In cases where inmates carefully plan and target their opportunities, stopping them from carrying out a successful suicide is extremely difficult.

"Four suicides in two months is most definitely cause for concern."

The other prison suicides were:

bullet Feb. 24: Michael Espindola, 33, was convicted of seven sexual assaults and was awaiting sentencing. He had been transferred to Halawa Nov. 2.

bullet Feb. 11: Farrington Governor Santos, 25, was awaiting trial in the robbery of a Wahiawa convenience store. He hanged himself at OCCC.

bullet Jan. 25: Dale Webster, 34, hanged himself at the Maui Community Correctional Center.

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