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Column: Forecast right population for new Oahu Community Correctional Center

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As the state continues to plan and design a new jail to replace the outdated Oahu Community Correctional Center (OCCC), a critical component of the planning process is forecasting the inmate population to ensure the new facility meets future needs without under- or oversizing the new OCCC. Understanding what the projected inmate population will look like also will help ensure that the new OCCC has adequate space for intake, health care, continuum-of-care treatment programs and rehabilitative services, while ensuring the health and safety of detainees, staff and visitors.

A recently completed OCCC population forecast shows the male inmate population declining from pre-pandemic levels of 1,316 in 2019, to a projected average daily population (ADP) of 875 inmates in 2024 and a continued decrease to 788 inmates in 2032.

However, forecasting the ADP is only one part of determining what the total bed requirement will be for the new facility.

It is important to note that no jail should be operating at 100% capacity and that not all beds are always available for use by every inmate. For instance, a vacant bed in a community security housing unit cannot be filled with a medium-security detainee. Similarly, a maximum-security detainee cannot be placed in a vacant bed in a minimum-security housing unit.

Therefore, the population forecast takes into account two key factors. The first is the peaking factor, which reflects the daily and seasonal variations in jail occupancy and the temporary unavailability of beds due to unanticipated circumstances, routine repairs and maintenance, etc.

The second is classification factor, which reflects the need to separate inmates based on security requirements, individual treatment needs, etc. The peaking and classification factors help contribute to providing the necessary flexibility to operate a jail safely and effectively at 85% to 90% of maximum bed capacity.

With the peaking and classification factors applied, the number of beds needed to accommodate the 2024 projected ADP of 875 inmates is 1,012 beds, with a gradual decline of the ADP to 911 by 2032.

In addition, the OCCC complex also houses pre-release sentenced felony inmates who are nearing the end of their sentence and are preparing to return to the community by accessing jobs, programs and services within the community. The forecast also analyzed this population, which shows a decline over time. With a projected ADP of 362 in 2024, 393 beds will be needed to accommodate this population. The forecasted ADP for this population is expected to decline to 330 inmates by 2032, requiring 358 beds.

Combining the numbers for the OCCC jail and pre-release populations, the forecast shows a combined ADP of 1,237 inmates by 2024, which will require 1,405 beds to accommodate this population. The combined projected ADP is expected to decline to 1,118 in 2032.

The population forecast report, prepared for the state by Pulitzer/Bogard & Associates, also indicated opportunities to reduce the OCCC average daily population through policy changes and legal reforms that would divert defendants from OCCC detention. These could include reducing or eliminating monetary bail for minor offenses, a proposal considered by the Hawaii Legislature this year. Other public-policy changes could also address diverting individuals who commit certain low-level, nonviolent felonies as well as technical probation violations from OCCC detention.

The OCCC project team appreciates the initial feedback received about the population forecast from the Hawaii Correctional Systems Oversight Commission. We look forward to continuing to work with all stakeholders, and will use the forecast to realize the plan for a new OCCC that will meet future needs, help avoid overcrowding and provide a modern, efficient facility that can lead to better outcomes for inmates — which in the long run is good for our entire state.

The need for a new jail to replace the outdated OCCC and its deficiencies has been discussed for decades. Current planning efforts led by the Department of Public Safety and the Department of Accounting and General Services have been underway for several years; we have made significant progress and are finalizing plans for the new OCCC. The time for action is now.

Max Otani is director of Hawaii’s Department of Public Safety; Curt Otaguro is comptroller of Hawaii’s Department of Accounting and General Services.

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