Hawaii’s overcrowded jails could get $45 million for expansion under Gov. David Ige’s supplemental budget proposal.

The governor’s plan calls for the Hawaii Department of Public Safety to pump $15 million to each of the three jails on the neighbor islands — the Hawaii Community Correctional Center, the Kauai Community Correctional Center and the Maui Community Correctional Center — to make more room for inmates.

An additional $20 million in capital improvement funds are also being sought for the maintenance and repair needs at the three jails.

Nolan Espinda, the director of public safety, told members of the House and Senate money committees Tuesday that the jails are operating at a level far exceeding their capacity.

The three jails have a combined operational capacity for 655 beds, but 1,250 inmates were being housed there at the end of December, according to the latest weekly population report.

“There is a dramatic overcrowding at each one of the community correctional centers across the state,” Espinda told the lawmakers.

Toni Schwartz, public safety spokeswoman, declined to say how many bed spaces will be added at the jails if the funding request were to be fully granted by the Legislature. The precise number, she said, won’t be available “until we have had a chance to present proposals to the lawmakers and gather their input.”

Oahu Community Correctional Center has long been plagued by overcrowding.
Oahu Community Correctional Center has long been plagued by overcrowding. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The governor’s proposal conspicuously omits an additional capital improvement request for the Oahu Community Correctional Center — beyond $6.5 million for maintenance and repairs there.

OCCC, which is equipped to house more inmates than the combined population of the other three jails, has long been plagued by overcrowding. At the end of December, the jail was home to 1,155 inmates, even though its operational capacity is 954 beds.

Espinda said the department will introduce a bill in the upcoming legislative session to allow a wholesale relocation of OCCC from the current campus in Kalihi to vacant state land in Halawa.

On Jan. 28, members of the House and Senate public safety committees will hold an informational briefing to learn more about the Department of Public Safety’s plan for such a move.

Meanwhile, House Finance Committee Chair Sylvia Luke offered what she said was an outside-the-box idea to Espinda: to propose legislation to get the counties to oversee the jail operations. The move, she said, would encourage the counties, particularly their prosecutors, to look into alternatives to incarceration.

“I’m actually serious about this,” Luke said. “Maybe then (they) will realize what type of cost the entire system creates. Perhaps, because they’d have to bear the burden of the cost of incarceration, they’d be more encouraged to be judicious in … not taxing the system.”

Espinda responded cautiously.

“I work in close partnerships with prosecutors, with all law enforcement agencies and with the judiciary, and I’m more than willing to participate in any kind of round-table discussions — the outside-the-box thinking,” Espinda told Luke. “But this is a relatively new idea for me, and I certainly don’t want to be on a front page of a newspaper saying, ‘The jails should go back to the counties.'”

Besides the jail expansion, the governor’s proposal — which increases the overall budget for fiscal years 2016 and 2017 to $30.7 billion — also calls for:

  • Hiring 12 sheriff’s deputies and $400,000 to “provide sheriffs at the State Capitol and to assist with homeless enforcement efforts.”
  • Hiring of five correctional officers and $163,965 for an expanded electronic monitoring program, which Espinda said would have a capacity to handle more than 200 inmates participating in the department’s work furlough program at OCCC.
  • About $3.2 million in additional funds for the Public Safety Department to move out of its current headquarters in Kakaako Makai to a yet-to-be-determined location.
  • Maintaining the current annual budget of about $50 million to secure bed spaces at the Saguaro Correctional Center, a prison in Eloy, Arizona, operated by the Corrections Corporation of America. More than 1,300 inmates — about a quarter of the state’s inmate population — are now housed in Saguaro, each costing about $70 a day.

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