Lawmakers and prison advocates raising questions on suicides at Hawaii correctional facilities
HONOLULU - Community advocates and state lawmakers are raising more questions after a briefing on suicides in state correctional facilities. Some community advocates are concerned some of the deaths ruled as suicides, may not be suicides at all.
Kat Brady, a coordinator for the Community Alliance on Prisons still remembers visiting with the family of Ashley Gray, the most recent inmate whose death was ruled as suicide in Hawaii.
"Her nine-year-old daughter hopped onto her bed, and was flipping her eyelids going, 'Mommy! Mommy, wake-up!' I'm thinking, oh my god, this woman is dying at the hands of the state, how can we allow that to happen?" said Brady, emotional.
Brady can still vividly describe Gray's injuries.
"She had a black eye, a cut under her eyebrow, a knot on her forehead, a busted lip," said Brady.
Hawaii has seen 10 inmate deaths ruled as suicide since 2015, but some community advocates are questioning what actually happened.
"My experience in the prison system, I've been in the prison system for 27-years, a lot of times, what they say was a suicide-- not necessarily so," said DeMont Conner, of Ho'omana Pono Political Action Committee.
Nolan Espinda is the Department of Public Safety Director.
"We are constantly watching visitations, we are constantly watching their interactions with their fellow inmates," said Espinda.
Espinda said inmates on suicide watch are checked on every five minutes, but none of the 10 people who died in custody were on suicide watch. He said during testimony, only one person was on safety watch.
"I've seen people commit suicide after a bad visit, I see people commit suicide after a bad phone call," said Espinda.
Wes Mun, the Corrections Health Care Division Administrator admits, the protocols are not foolproof.
"When we do the suicide risk evaluation, the patient says the right things, in terms of asking if they are actively thinking about suicide, they know the right answers to fool us," said Mun.
After presiding over Tuesday's briefing, Senator Clarence Nishihara (D-District 17) says he plans to re-visit the issue with the Department of Public Safety.
"I think we may have to do a follow up on this, there are troubling questions about how some of these inmates were found," said Sen. Nishihara.
Community advocates say they hope lawmakers will hold the Department of Public Safety accountable, and demand transparency in these cases.
"As a human being this is what keeps me up at night," said Brady.