State prison officials are seeking proposals to house about 1,800 prisoners outside Hawaii after the current prison contract ends in June, despite Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s call to bring inmates back home as soon as possible.
"It is very clear at this time that we do not have all the facilities to bring the inmates back," said Martha Torney, deputy director of administration for the state Department of Public Safety. "As the state moves toward bringing the inmates back to the islands, that will determine what our needs are in the future."
The state already has returned some prisoners since Abercrombie said in December that he wants prisoners to stay in Hawaii.
During the quarterly rotation in January, the state brought back about 125 more prisoners than were sent to the mainland, Torney said.
The request for proposals, published March 1, designates a three-year contract, but the state can cancel the contract and remove prisoners at any time, Torney said. The submittal period ends March 31.
One company that plans on submitting an offer is Corrections Corp. of America — the fifth-largest U.S. prison operator behind the federal government, California, Florida and Texas.
Hawaii has 1,699 prisoners at CCA’s Saguaro Correctional Center and 58 inmates at CCA’s Red Rock Correctional Center, both in Eloy, Ariz., Torney said.
Brad Regens, CCA’s vice president of state partnership relations, said CCA is not lobbying to keep Hawaii’s prisoners out of state.
Torney said the Public Safety Department is working on a two-pronged plan to return isle inmates and hopes to have the plan ready for the Legislature by year’s end. She said it’s too early to discuss any other time line.
The plan includes a re-entry project to get prisoners into the community and out of prison sooner, and a look at expanding the number of prison beds in Hawaii.
Sen. Will Espero, chairman of the Public Safety, Military and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee, said he would like to see Hawaii prisoners returned rather than paying a private company $60 million a year to house them. He and Rep. Henry Aquino, chairman of the Public Safety and Military Affairs Committee, said CCA officials expressed interest in running a private prison in Hawaii.
Hawaii’s prisoners were sent out of state 16 years ago as a short-term solution to overcrowding and have been under CCA’s care since 1998.
Espero said there are many possibilities for returning Hawaii’s inmates, such as reopening Kulani Correctional Facility on the Big Island, building a new prison on Maui, introducing electronic monitoring and expanding furlough programs.
"If the governor is serious about this, within his four-year term he should easily be able to bring back 1,000 or 1,500," he said.