HILO, Hawaii >> The Big Island’s only jail is expected to add a $12.8 million medium-security building amid concerns about overcrowding, Hawaii state officials said.
The Hawaii Community Correctional Center was designed to hold 226 inmates but recorded more than 400 inmates last month, West Hawaii Today reported Friday.
The jail, which has two campuses in Hilo, processes about 5,000 inmates a year, Warden Peter Cabreros said.
“We do the best we can with what we’ve got,” Cabreros said. “The daily challenge is security and safety and managing the population.”
Cells meant to house two inmates are often housed with three people, one sleeping on a mat on the floor, officials said. There is an additional enclosure that houses overflow inmates who also sleep on mats, jail officials said.
Construction of the new unit is about a year away, state legislators said.
The proposed facility would follow a new concept design to look less like a jail and include a lounge area, garden and outdoor recreation areas, Cabreros said.
“Trying to design facilities that don’t look like jails,” he said. “It’s a new concept.”
An environmental assessment was completed and anticipates room for up to 144 inmates, officials said. Finances allow 48 beds in two-bed cells and an optional expansion for another 32 beds, officials said.
Residents who oppose the expansion have cited the proximity to nearby schools less than 500 feet (152 meters) from the facility, some residents said.
“It’s really unnerving as a parent. It’s close to two schools and they have to go on lockdown,” said County Council Chairman Aaron Chung, who also lives nearby. “When I was a little boy, they called it the county jail. It was small, and it wasn’t out of place. Then it started to grow and grow and grow and became Hawaii Community Correctional Center and it has much more inmates than originally anticipated. It’s grown too large for that area.”
State Public Safety staff said the expansion is to better house the inmates it already has, not to grow the population.