In a major blow to one of Gov. David Ige’s top legislative priorities, Hawaii lawmakers killed a bill that would have financed the relocation of the crumbling Oahu Community Correctional Center.

House Bill 2388, introduced by Ige in January, was aimed at fast-tracking OCCC’s relocation by giving his administration wide discretion to pursue a number of possible arrangements — such as using a sale of general obligation bonds in excess of $489 million.

But a joint House-Senate conference committee deferred action on the bill indefinitely Friday, meaning it’s dead for this legislative session.

Oahu Community Correctional Center. 18 dec 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Gov. David Ige had made the relocation of the Oahu Community Correctional Center among his top priorities for this year. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The impasse was over two disagreements: how much money should be allocated for the relocation, and where a new OCCC should be built.

The House’s amended bill, which was passed in early March, included a provision calling for the Ige administration to conduct a feasibility study to see whether a new structure “using a multi-story design” could be build on the jail’s existing campus in Kalihi — a process that would take at least a year.

UPDATE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that a Senate amendment called for the feasibility study.

And the House money committee decided to appropriate only about $60 million for the design and construction of a new OCCC — far lower than what Ige had originally sought.

In the end, the lawmakers couldn’t come to agreement on the issues.

The result was a serious setback for the governor’s plan to transform the aging stock of Hawaii’s prisons and jails — starting with OCCC, which was originally built in 1916 and now holds more than twice as many inmates as its designed capacity.

In past interviews, Ige has said that the way to finance OCCC’s replacement, possibly through a public-private partnership, could serve as a model for his administration to renovate the rest of the facilities.

Ige declined to comment for this story.

“The governor will comment on this bill and others once the session is complete, the dust has settled and he has a clearer picture of the situation,” Ige’s spokeswoman Jodi Leong said.

Oahu Community Correctional Center. 18 dec 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Overcrowding is endemic at the Oahu Community Correctional Center, where 1,430 inmates were crammed into space designed to house 628 on Monday. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

For his part, Nolan Espinda, the director of the Hawaii Department of Public Safety, said the outcome was “disappointing.”

“This is something the administration’s legislative package was really pushing for,” Espinda said.

But Espinda said not all was lost for the department during this legislative session. He noted that the lawmakers agreed to appropriate $4 million to expand the state’s work furlough program and another $4 million to add a yet-to-be-determined number of bed spaces at the Women’s Community Correctional Center.

The Legislature also steered $37.5 million in capital improvement funds to help address the overcrowding problem at three jails on the neighbor islands — $7.5 million for the Maui jail, as well as $15 million each for two jails on Kauai and Big Island.

Meanwhile, Kat Brady, coordinator of the Community Alliance on Prisons, said the bill’s impasse was ultimately good for the community.

“Now we can direct our attention to looking at alternatives for incarceration,” such as sentencing reforms and more re-entry programs, Brady said. “I think there are many other alternatives that are cheaper and way more effective than building a jail.”

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