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Vaccination Rate of HCCC Inmates Lowest of All State’s Jails, Prisons

By Tiffany DeMasters
June 25, 2021, 5:57 PM HST
* Updated June 25, 6:05 PM
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Hawai‘i Community Correctional Center has the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rate of inmates among all jails and prisons in the state, according to statistics released Friday, June 25.

As of June 21, 23% of HCCC inmates were fully vaccinated, according to a point-in-time study for June 21, 2021, compiled by the Department of Public Safety (PSD) Health Care Division. Statewide, 54% of Hawai‘i’s prisoners have been vaccinated.

“Staff are working hard to convince inmates that it is in their best interest to get vaccinated, not only for themselves but also so they can keep their families and friends safe,” said Tommy Johnson, Deputy Director for Corrections. “PSD continues to encourage everyone to voluntarily get tested and receive the COVID vaccination. Our health care and security staff are working around the clock to mitigate (the) spread of the virus in the facilities, and they frequently go back to inmates who have said no to see if they will reconsider, in the hopes that they will get the shot before they are released.”

The release of the stats comes after 11 inmates incarcerated in various facilities across the state filed a class-action lawsuit against PSD, former PSD Director Nolan Espinda, current PSD Director Max Otani Gov. David Ige and Lt. Gov. Josh Green on June 8. The complaint alleges mismanagement of the pandemic and unsafe conditions for prisoners. Five of the plaintiffs are being held at HCCC, one at Kulani Correctional Facility and the rest are on O‘ahu.

HCCC staff has been battling a COVID-19 cluster that was first reported in May. PSD started reporting recoveries this week. On June 25, active cases were down to 51 with the total number of recovers to 185. There are no inmates in the hospital. There were also three more staff recoveries reported so the number of active positive HCCC staff dropped to three.

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HCCC offers the COVID-19 vaccine to prisoners during the initial intake process to the jail. Inmates may also request vaccination at any time through the sick-call program, on sign-up sheets in each housing unit, or by verbal request to staff.

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PSD couldn’t point to a specific reason as to why HCCC had the lowest vaccination rate among inmates in the state. PSD spokesperson Toni Schwartz said reasons to not get inoculated may fall in line with the reasons why others choose not to get the shot.

“It is possible that they (inmates) hear the same misinformation that wrongly claims vaccines aren’t safe, have concerns about the side effects, and want to wait and see what kind of experience others are having before they decide,” Schwartz said. “Some just refuse to be vaccinated in general, and don’t give a reason.”

Another issue majority of jail admissions face, Schwartz noted, is most individuals coming to the facilities are high on some type of illicit substance.

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“This makes most of them unwilling and/or unable to make an informed decision during intake about taking a shot,” Schwartz said. “It may take up to two weeks for their minds to clear enough to make that decision.”

The Department of Health works closely with PSD to coordinate mass vaccination clinics for inmates and staff. HCCC held vaccination clinics on May 10-11, 20, 28. Inoculation opportunities were also offered to inmates on June 9, 14, 17-18, 23-24.

Below is a breakdown of the number of inmates vaccinated at all jails and prisons in the state. PSD noted the inmate population is transient and changes by the hour as court order intakes and releases throughout the day.

Prison Vaccinations

Kulani Correctional Facility is at 89%. KCF is located on the Big Island. The following facilities are on Oahu:
Waiawa Correctional Facility: 82%
Halawa Correctional Facility: 71%
Women’s Community Correctional Center: 51%

Jail Vaccinations

Kaua‘i Community Correctional Center: 58%
Maui Community Correctional Center: 47%
O‘ahu Community Correctional Center: 41%
Hawai‘i Community Correctional Center: 23%

For PSD’s Pandemic Plan and more information on PSD’s planning and response to COVID-19, inmate testing data, and information detailing the efforts made to safeguard the inmates, staff and public, click here.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat.
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