Saturday, April 06, 2013


No fixes yet for corrections system management

by Larry Geller


State corrections officials plan to install surveillance cameras in the security holding cell area at Oahu Community Correctional Center where a detainee allegedly killed another earlier this year.

[Star-Advertiser p. A19, Fixes set for corrections system, 4/5/2013]

Surveillance cameras are a good idea, right? Should solve the problem of one prisoner killing another, right?


The disappeared news here is that surveillance cameras seldom work. Now, they would work if someone were watching the screens 24 hours a day every moment. But that’s not the case.

Nor are cameras a perfect deterrent. Even in department stores with visible cameras, experienced shoplifters know that no one is watching. Sure, it helps a little. The casual shopper will think twice, or think of how to pinch the goods out of sight of the camera.

The prisoner who allegedly killed a cellmate could not be deterred. The other guy was dead in the cell with him, no one else could have done it. He wasn’t thinking of whether or not he could get away with the killing.

Sure, after the fact, if there had been cameras and if they were being recorded, there would have been a record of what went on, but the other guy would still be dead.

In a past life I have audited computer center security. I noted over and over that no one watches the screens of surveillance cameras. You can’t pay someone enough to have them stare at those screens all the time, and they don’t pay the guards very much anyway.

Another personal experience: my car was stolen from its parking place one day. Yes, the whole thing was captured on a video recorder. But my car was still stolen, and all I had was a bunch of snapshots of it being driven out. I learned from that, and took measures to reduce my car’s chances of being stolen.

Corrections system needs correction

The problems with the state’s management of its correctional facilities might have stayed hidden from the public were it not for the recent high-profile escapes and the cellblock killing.

[State Public Safety Director Ted Sakai] assured lawmakers that steps were being taken to ensure past mistakes aren't repeated.

But he said his department is facing problems in trying to decide where to put inmates at Oahu Community Correctional Center, a facility designed to hold a little more than 600 inmates but now housing about 1,200 detainees.

“Past mistakes” continue in the present. There are still twice as many inmates in OCCC as should be there. Inadequate procedures allowed two prisoners to escape and made the news, so band-aid fixes have been applied.  Inadequate management allowed one cellmate to kill another.

Who knows what errors will be made next, and who will be endangered by the deficient management of Hawaii’s correctional system? What else is going on that doesn’t make the news? Will there be an audit or investigation?

The recent incidents that made news call for an independent investigation. Are there other deficiencies that have not (yet?) come to public attention? Most likely. To simply correct the highly publicized errors could be a coverup for more serious deficiencies that never make the news.

Hawaii’s government administration problems

There’s a common thread in recent local news—one state problem after another that can be attributed to poor management.

Whether it is failure to manage UH maintenance requirements, failure to manage road repairs, failure to manage the UH president’s travel absences, failure to report abuses in the schools, failure to protect personal data—pick your own favorites—all of these should be indicators that management systems are not in place to ensure the smooth functioning of government.

Management can and should be continually improved. In fact, regardless of which agency is involved, measurement and evaluation together with a continuous improvement program can help fine-tune management and give taxpayers the value they are paying for. This would be a cultural change for Hawaii.

Sure, stuff happens. And yes, each problem must be corrected.

But we shouldn’t just pull junk out of the river one piece at a time, we need to go up the river and see who is throwing it in (with apologies to Rev. Al Sharpton).


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