By Associated Press - Wednesday, March 4, 2015

HONOLULU — Nearly half of the guards at four prisons across Hawaii called in sick on Super Bowl Sunday, prompting a lawmaker to call for an audit for sick leave taken by prison guards statewide.

According to records, about 47 percent of the guards at Waiawa Community Correctional Center and Maui Community Correctional Center called in sick. At the women’s prison in Kailua, the sick rate was 45 percent. And at Halawa prison, that rate was 42 percent, the Honolulu news station Hawaii News Now reported Wednesday.

The state Department of Public Safety was struggling with guards calling in sick and other time-off abuses that frequently forced the cancellation of family visits at prisons. But no visits were cancelled on Super Bowl Sunday and on other recent weekend visit days, according to notifications sent by the department.

The Super Bowl sick leave rate shows there still needs to be improvement, said Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda.

“The anticipation, planning and preparation we made for this past Super Bowl Sunday made the data what it was,” said Espinda, who faces a state Senate confirmation hearing Thursday. “If existing practices were left in place and no one paid particular attention to the issue, and the expectation of the day, the levels may have been even higher.”

The sick rate at Oahu Community Correctional Center on Super Bowl Sunday was 35 percent, when 60 corrections officers had to be held over or brought in on overtime to fill in for those who called in sick, department spokeswoman Toni Schwartz said.

Records showed about a quarter of the guards at Waiawa, Kulani Correctional Facility and Oahu Community Correctional Center called in sick on the Monday after the Super Bowl.

The department couldn’t provide an estimated average percentage of sick calls on a normal working day. On the day before the Super Bowl, figures should a range of 12 percent to 22 percent.

“I think this audit will give us the basis for determining whether it’s just a few people who are gaming the system or if it’s symptomatic of the need for some kind of revision of our sick leave policies,” state Rep. Gregg Takayama told Hawaii News Now.

Like other state workers, corrections officers have 21 sick days and 21 vacation days per year.

“We ought to be able to take action against those we know are gaming the system,” Takayama said. “But unfortunately, in many cases, our hands are tied.”

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