Drugs in Hawaii’s prisons: “We’re swimming in spices, and nobody cares”

Staff and inmates at the state’s largest prison say prisoners there have easy access to a dangerous synthetic drug known as ‘spice’ which has already killed two inmates.

Spice is also charged with an incident last fall in which seven prisoners lost consciousness and had to be rushed to local hospitals.

Inmates at Halawa Correctional Facility eat paper that has been treated with the chemical, or they burn the paper and inhale the smoke to get high, according to corrections officials. Staff report that they often smell smoke in prison pods which they attribute to inmates who use drugs.

Lighters and matches are considered contraband because the prison does not allow inmates to smoke, which raises questions about how inmates can get the drugs and how they get the matches or lighters they need to use them. Visitors have been banned from the facility during the pandemic.

Staff who spoke on condition not to be identified allege that prison security staff did little to quell what has become evident and rampant drug use, and believe that a dozen inmates a month are referred to the prison medical unit for alleged spice use.

“We’re swimming in spice, and nobody cares,” said a prison staff member.

Halawa Correctional Facility staff say use of the drug called spice has become commonplace at the facility, and the Honolulu medical examiner confirms the drug caused the deaths of two inmates last year. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Autopsies of the two inmates who died in Halawa from toxic reactions to spices describe it as part of a class of “designer drugs” that became popular around two decades ago. It stimulates the same cannabinoid receptors in the brain that are affected by marijuana, but the spice is far more dangerous.

The use of spices “has been repeatedly reported to produce serious adverse health effects, including but not limited to hallucinations, agitation, delusions, cardiotoxic effects, lethargy, coma, convulsions and death,” according to the autopsy report.

Honolulu medical examiner autopsies attribute the July 15 death of 38-year-old Halawa inmate Kanikahekili Cuizon to spice toxicity, and say spices also caused the death of Halawa inmate Noa Mamala less than eight weeks later.

The report on Mamala, 30, shows he was also ill with Covid-19, but coronavirus is not listed as the cause of death. Mamala died in Halawa on September 9.

Spice was also charged with an incident a few weeks later when seven inmates lost consciousness in Halawa on September 16 and were rushed to local hospitals. A staff member described it as the largest mass inmate meltdown at the facility, and the department said in a written response to questioning that the incident was blamed on “drug poisoning”.

Honolulu police and the Department of Public Safety’s Narcotics Division were notified of the incident and an internal investigation has also been launched, but department spokeswoman Toni Schwartz said in a statement. written response to questions that “the matter is under investigation, so there is nothing more the department can disclose at this time.

Tommy Johnson, deputy director of corrections for the Department of Public Safety, said in an interview in late December that prison officials were doing a “pretty good” job of keeping drugs out of state prisons, and said said the state was considering buying “drug detection machines.” “But he acknowledged that staff were sometimes involved in drug dealing.

“Unfortunately, when the drugs come in, because they are worth so much money inside, it becomes lucrative, and so we have to be concerned that staff may be involved from time to time in smuggling drugs into establishment because if you’re ‘going to get paid $2,000 or $5,000 for taking a small amount of drugs, some people will take that opportunity, unfortunately,’ he said.

Johnson said he believed prison gangs were trying to control the flow of drugs and that the “prevalence of drugs in institutions” had compounded the problem of prison gang activity.

He also said the spice is seen as a particular problem because “inmates don’t know what they’re going to get, you don’t know how strong it is” when they take a dose.

Remnants of the Halawa quarry frame what is known as
Prison officials did not respond to questions about how drugs, lighters or matches are smuggled into Halawa, saying only that “smuggling is an ongoing battle for correctional facilities across the country. “. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The use of spices in Halawa has even triggered complaints from some inmates, who have sometimes become irritated when users exhibit bizarre behavior that causes tension between prisoners, or when users vomit from the effects of Drugs.

Staff said it’s extremely difficult to gauge exactly how common spice use is, in part because spices can’t be detected with ordinary drug screens that detect street drugs. common ones such as methamphetamine, opiates or marijuana. That makes it popular with inmates, who are less likely to face administrative penalties if they don’t test positive.

Staff said they also believe inmates have been fine-tuning the dosage since the September 16 incident, when seven people passed out.

Inmates identified as likely to use spices are those who are unresponsive or exhibit strange behaviors suggesting drug use. Other inmates may also use, but are unlikely to be caught if they are able to act more normally, staff said.

Kat Brady, coordinator of the Prisons Community Alliance, said she was told that some department staff believed the drugs were being smuggled into the facility via inmate mail, and some members of the staff attempted to photocopy inmate mail so that inmates could receive copies instead. original letters.

The department declined to respond directly to that account, saying only that the department is “investigating measures that prevent contraband from entering through the mail, including photocopying incoming mail.”

“Contraband is an ongoing battle for correctional facilities across the country,” Schwartz said in his statement. “The Ministry of Public Security (DSP) is working hard to monitor and eliminate smuggling routes. It is an ongoing effort that is prioritized to ensure the health, safety and well-being of staff, the community, as well as inmates.

She added, “PSD is working with law enforcement and federal, state and county prosecutors to bring to justice those who violate this law.”

Schwartz also did not respond to specific questions about staff reports that spice use has become common in Halawa, and did not respond to questions seeking information on anyone who may have been charged with the charges. use or smuggling of spices.

She also did not answer questions about how inmates could get matches or lighters.

“Drugs of all kinds, from marijuana to spices, have been found over the years,” Schwartz wrote. “For operational safety and security reasons, the Department cannot release information on smuggling routes or investigations of such routes, but can say that there are many ways people attempt to smuggle smuggling in correctional facilities.”

“Staff work very hard to monitor and eliminate smuggling routes,” she said in her written statement.

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