Get clarity on prison, jail goals
It started off last legislative session with Gov. David Ige’s $489.3 million grand plan to build a new Oahu Community Correctional Center (OCCC) on the grounds of the existingHalawa prison.
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It started off last legislative session with Gov. David Ige’s $489.3 million grand plan to build a new Oahu Community Correctional Center (OCCC) on the grounds of the existing Halawa prison.
But when state lawmakers balked, they instead threw the Ige administration a $5 million bone to study “possible sites” for construction of a new OCCC. What wasn’t shared publicly at the time was that a $5 million contract had already been signed on April 18 with Architects Hawaii Ltd. to study the relocation of OCCC with funds from a 2014 appropriation.
It’s unclear why a second appropriation for $5 million to study the same issue was approved this spring. The dubious repeat appropriation needs further examination, and the state Depart-
ment of Accounting and General Services (DAGS) confirmed Thursday it will not seek release of the $5 million for a second OCCC study until the department has a more complete definition of the proposed study’s parameters.
DAGS already had researched Ige’s OCCC relocation and expansion project and provided the Legislature with preliminary cost information — the $489.3 million price tag.
The OCCC relocation issue highlights a disjointed system of commissioning studies — one in which lawmakers authorize the study and decide the amount to spend without researching how much it will actually cost. Further, the parameters of the study are not specified until long after the legislative session.
In June, after the Legislature appropriated the second $5 million to study “possible sites” for OCCC, no lawmaker or administrator was able to tell the Star-Advertiser what exactly was being studied. Today, DAGS is not comfortable releasing those funds — and with good reason, if there is no clear mission.
Meanwhile, the state’s correctional facilities are bursting at the seams — jail inmates throughout the counties are triple- and quadruple-celled.
The state’s penchant for churning out studies, but without action toward resolving problems, is why prospects remain dim for a needed new prison or jail anytime soon.
The public will have to determine whether the $5 million study now underway is taxpayer money well spent or merely an overpriced fishing expedition. The result will be a report by Architects Hawaii that the governor and Legislature could take at face value, or reject in part or in total.
Now, unexpectedly, state Department of Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda has thrown another possibility into the mix: Move OCCC jail inmates into the existing Halawa Correctional Facility and build a new, larger prison at an “outward location” that also could accommodate about 1,400 Hawaii prisoners now housed in Arizona.
Espinda’s idea might be worth exploring, given that the state’s goal has been to eventually bring those prisoners home. But Architects Hawaii this week said Espinda’s scenario likely can’t be reviewed under its current contract because its terms are specific to developing a new jail.
That’s unfortunate. But let’s hope this session’s $5 million appropriation still searching for a purpose is not squandered on aimless efforts.
Mike McCartney, Ige’s chief of staff, said he expects that in this “early stage of planning, our extensive community outreach for this project will produce many ideas and suggestions, all of which should be weighed for the pros, cons and viability of each. Director Espinda’s comments add to the pool of strategies, all of which should be carefully weighed.”
While the push for community input is appreciated, it appears that the Ige administration has no defined direction following the Legislature’s rejection of its initial plan to move OCCC to the grounds of the Halawa facility.
Architects Hawaii has scheduled a public meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Farrington High School to hear from the community about possible new locations for OCCC as part of the environmental review process.
The contract between the state and Architects Hawaii includes a site selection study, infrastructure analysis, an environmental impact statement, public outreach and community involvement and a master plan report for a selected site, among other requirements. The contract was signed in April, nearly two years after that appropriation was made.
In the Star-Advertiser’s June story about the questionable $5 million study, Sen. Sam Slom (R, Diamond Head-Kahala-Hawaii Kai) was critical of the Legislature’s practice of funding studies without having a “clear plan with boundaries and options.”
It’s a system that taxpayers should question and press lawmakers for answers. Commissioning studies for the sake of creating busy work for isle consultants is a practice the state can ill-afford.