The Abercrombie administration is starting to make good on the governor’s promise to bring all state prison inmates incarcerated on the mainland back to Hawaii.
The state returned 243 inmates from Arizona last week and sent back just 96 to take their place.
Of the 243 returning inmates, 54 are getting paroled, 28 are about to complete their prison terms and three are back for court hearings.
When Gov. Neil Abercrombie promised swift action last month to bring back all Hawaii inmates serving time in mainland prisons, state Senate Public Safety Chairman Will Espero was not expecting action so soon.
"I was pleasantly surprised," he said.
Espero said he learned of the returning inmates yesterday from state Public Safety Director Jodie Maesaka-Hirata. He said the state conducts prison transfers quarterly, but it usually sends at least the same number of prisoners to the mainland as it returns.
He applauded Abercrombie’s plan to bring back all Hawaii inmates.
"If we’re going to spend $60 million a year to house inmates, I’d rather spend it here in Hawaii than on the mainland," Espero said.
The state returned 152 inmates to Hawaii on Jan. 19, sent 96 to Arizona on Jan. 20 and returned an additional 91 last Friday.
The transfers leave 1,759 Hawaii inmates in Arizona: 1,705 in Saguaro Correctional Center, 51 in Red Rock Correctional Center, two in Florence State Prison and one in Central Arizona Detention Center. Central Arizona, in Florence, and Saguaro and Red Rock, both in Eloy, are private prisons operated by Corrections Corp. of America, which houses Hawaii inmates under contract with the state.
Abercrombie made his promise after 18 Hawaii inmates at Saguaro sued CCA, the state and the state’s contract monitor. The inmates claim they were beaten and assaulted and their families threatened by prison guards.
The Public Safety Department sent a team to examine practices at Saguaro last year after two Hawaii inmates died in February and June.
The state returned all but one of the 169 women serving time in a CCA prison in Kentucky in 2009 after the inmates reported widespread sexual abuse by guards and prison employees.