Bill would have state consider rebuilding prison
Hawaii legislators are exploring ways to bring back more than 1,300 inmates housed in an Arizona prison operated by the Corrections Corp. of America. They’re also looking to re-energize efforts to relocate Maui Community Correctional Center from Wailuku to Puunene.
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Hawaii legislators are exploring ways to bring back more than 1,300 inmates housed in an Arizona prison operated by the Corrections Corp. of America. They’re also looking to re-energize efforts to relocate Maui Community Correctional Center from Wailuku to
Earlier this year Gov. David Ige introduced a more modest plan, outlined in House Bill 2388, that would relocate Oahu Community Correctional Center, Oahu’s largest prison, from Kalihi to the grounds of the existing Halawa prison. Rebuilding OCCC would address the facility’s severe overcrowding and also allow the Kalihi land, which sits near a planned Honolulu rail station, to be redeveloped.
But House members have taken those plans further in the hope of better addressing the shortage of space throughout the state’s jail and prison systems.
HB 2388, which was passed by its third and final House committee last week, has been amended to require the state to explore rebuilding OCCC at its current site in Kalihi while also looking to build a new facility on the grounds of Halawa Correctional Facility.
Rep. Gregg Takayama, chairman of the House Public Safety Committee, said that the grounds of the Halawa facility don’t have enough space to accommodate both a new OCCC and a new prison facility that could house the Arizona inmates.
“My long-term goal is to do both: accommodating the rebuilding of OCCC and also accommodating the return of the inmates we have in Arizona,” said Takayama (D, Pearl City-Waimalu-Pacific Palisades). “So as far as the Arizona inmates, the most logical place for them to go would be Halawa prison. They are long-term prison inmates, so it makes the most sense to have them accommodated at an expansion at Halawa.”
The revised bill would require the state to conduct a study to learn whether it makes sense to rebuild OCCC at its current site in Kalihi, but as a multistory facility with a much smaller footprint, which would allow portions of the land to still be redeveloped as the state and city work to encourage transit-oriented development along the rail route.
Hawaii began sending inmates to mainland facilities in the 1990s. It was supposed to be a temporary measure to save money and relieve overcrowding in state prisons. But two decades later the state still houses about one-quarter of its inmate population at Arizona’s Saguaro Correctional Center.
The amended HB 2388 also requires the state to push forward on plans to relocate Maui Community Correctional Center, which also suffers from overcrowding.
Plans to construct a new facility in Puunene date from at least 2008, when Gov. Linda Lingle released $9 million for redesign work. Bidding on the project was expected to begin in late 2009, and the jail was
supposed to be finished by 2012, according to a 2008 Honolulu Advertiser story.
Nolan Espinda, director of Hawaii’s Department of Public Safety, told lawmakers last month that the project had become entangled in “cross-jurisdictional issues.” He said about $14 million had been spent on consultants and design and engineering services.
The Department of Accounting and General Services, which was partially in charge of the project, said the project was put on hold in 2013 due to a lack of construction funding. Cathy Chin, a DAGS spokeswoman, said that the project had made it to the “pre-final design phase.”
She said the site is owned by the state but controlled by Maui County.
“In order for the project to move forward we would need to complete the design documents and restart the environmental impact statement and public outreach efforts,” Chin said by email. “We would also need to coordinate infrastructure requirements (water, electricity, etc.), acquire the appropriate permits and the project would need to be funded.”
In testimony on the revised bill, Espinda said he supported moving forward on the Maui jail relocation, but he also expressed doubt about the ability to rebuild OCCC at its current site in Kalihi.
“The OCCC facility’s aged and deteriorating infrastructure and the grossly outdated and inefficient layout of the current campus call for a complete architectural redesign and structural relocation,” he wrote in testimony on the bill.
He said there is a “dire need” to move the prison out of the urban core community of Kalihi.
“The reality is that over the years, residences, industrial and commercial enterprises, and even schools, moved in around OCCC, just next door to its armed and razor-wired perimeter,” he wrote. “Being in such close proximity to the jail must be a constant safety concern to the residents, business owners and their employees, educators, and students in the neighborhood.”
Under the amended bill, the Ige administration can still pursue relocating OCCC to Halawa or another site, depending on bids from developers. But it would require the state to also consider renovating OCCC at its current location.