Frank Pauline Jr. suffered a sudden, violent death more than 3,000 miles from home.
It was April 2015, and the Hawaii resident was walking laps around the recreation yard of the Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility when an assailant sneaked up behind him with a rock wrapped in a green shirt.
Civil Beat is examining how the state manages its troubled, overcrowded prison system, which includes four prisons and four jails in Hawaii, and a contract private prison in Arizona. This story — reported as part of a John Jay Center on Media, Crime and Justice Reporting Fellowship, with support from the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice — delves into Hawaii’s use of mainland prisons, beyond its contract with the Arizona prison.
Three swift blows to the head with the rock, and Pauline was down on the ground, lying lifeless in a pool of blood.
Back in Hawaii, the news of Pauline’s death made big headlines, owing to his checkered history: In 1999, he was convicted in the kidnapping, rape and beating death of Dana Ireland — a notorious case on the Big Island that garnered much attention.
But none of the media coverage of Pauline’s death went on to tell the story behind the story: What was Pauline doing in a New Mexico prison in the first place?
It turned out that Pauline had been sent to New Mexico under a little-known arrangement called the “interstate corrections compact,” which allows prisoner transfers across state lines — typically arranged as prisoner exchanges.
Much of the details surrounding the corrections compacts — how often and under what circumstances transfers are made — are shrouded in secrecy.
But, through a public records request, Civil Beat has learned that the Hawaii Department of Public Safety currently has 58 prisoners housed on the mainland under the corrections compacts — in addition to about 1,400 prisoners housed at a for-profit prison in Arizona under a separate contract with CoreCivic, formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America.
According to the department, 27 of the prisoners were transferred as part of prisoner exchanges with seven states — California, Colorado, Florida, New Jersey, New Mexico, Utah and Virginia.
The remaining 31 prisoners were transferred to mainland facilities operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which, in lieu of prisoner exchanges, charges Hawaii a per-diem rate of $83.26 per prisoner to house them — though not for those who are serving state and federal sentences concurrently.
The department denied Civil Beat’s request for more detailed information — such as specific reasons for the transfers, as well as the locations of where each prisoner is housed.
Shelley Nobriga, the department’s litigation coordinator, would only say that all transfers were made because of “security and safety concerns,” and that other information would be off-limits, citing privacy exemptions and “the frustration of a legitimate government function.”
In Hawaii, prisoner transfers across state lines are authorized under two provisions in the Hawaii Revised Statutes.
One is called the Western Interstate Corrections Compact, which has Hawaii and 10 other states as members; the other is called the Interstate Corrections Compact, which is nationwide in scope and has another 30 states as members.
According to the provisions, which outline a broad framework of the two corrections compacts, the goal of transfers is to provide “adequate quarters and care” or “an appropriate program of rehabilitation or treatment.”
The provisions also direct that Hawaii prisoners — who remain under the “jurisdiction and discretion” of the state — be guaranteed equal treatment and any legal rights that they’d have in Hawaii.
Meanwhile, the logistics involved in transfers are detailed in separate contracts that Hawaii currently has with 14 states — specifying, for instance, that the sending state is responsible for covering the expenses for transporting prisoners, as well as any non-“ordinary” medical services.
But the details are thin when it comes to what circumstances can trigger transfers.
Inside its policy and procedures manual, the Department of Public Safety has only one short section set aside for the corrections compact — instructing that transfer decisions be based on “classification, individual needs, resources and facilities available (to the department), the exigencies of the community,” as well as prisoners’ re-entry preparation needs.
The paucity of information is in stark contrast to what’s available in some states.
In Virginia, for instance, the public can review a detailed, 11-page operating procedure that explains how transfers are made under the corrections compacts — including a step-by-step explanation on how the state’s prisoners can request their own transfer.
In a statement, Toni Schwartz, public safety spokeswoman, said that Hawaii prisoners can also make a transfer request.
The department “will take the request under consideration and, in rare cases, approve it, if the reason is justified,” Schwartz said. “Examples of requests that may be approved include: relocation to a state so the individual can parole near family and for someone who committed the crime in Hawaii but is a resident of another state.”
But Schwartz said prisoners can’t refuse an involuntary transfer, which she said can be made for an array of reasons — such as facilitating “dual-jurisdiction” sentences, accommodating “protective custody,” and dealing with prison gang leaders and those with “continuous violent and disruptive tendencies.”
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how many prisoners are transferred under the corrections compacts across the country.
That’s in part because no federal agency keeps an up-to-date tally, let alone oversees how such transfers are made.
The only formal research into the corrections compacts came in 2006, when the National Institute of Corrections, an agency under the U.S. Justice Department, sponsored a study after realizing that there was “no literature” to be found on the subject.
The study, based on survey responses from 48 states, found that, under the corrections compacts, 43 states collectively had more than 2,000 inmates transferred to prisons in other states and another 345 inmates to federal facilities.
The tally didn’t include Hawaii prisoners — the Department of Public Safety failed to respond to the survey.
According to the study, the most-cited reason for transfers was inmates’ safety — such as when an inmate requires protection for being a state’s witness.
The study noted that many transfers were also made for special program needs and “post-incident/disturbance cool down,” as well as “compassionate reasons” to allow inmates to be near their families and avoid “undue hardship on visitors.”
“Clearly, there are good reasons for doing it sometimes, but, if the public doesn’t know when such action is taken, it’s easy to abuse such a great power over people,” Fettig said. “You don’t want it to be used as a form of retaliation against people who complain about unconstitutional and unlawful conditions, for example. The only way to ensure that doesn’t happen is to make sure that the guidelines for actually using it are limited and are overseen.”
Critics say what happened to Pauline in New Mexico highlights why more transparency is needed.
The Department of Public Safety first transferred Pauline to the mainland shortly after his conviction in 1999, part of an effort to relieve severe overcrowding at the state’s dilapidated prisons and jails.
But the transfer wasn’t made under the corrections compact; he was transferred through the state’s regular channel — its longstanding contract with CoreCivic that allowed Hawaii prisoners to be housed at a number of mainland prisons.
Pauline then bounced around at different CoreCivic-run prisons before ending up at the Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona, about 70 miles southeast of Phoenix.
After several years, though, the department decided to transfer Pauline again, this time to New Mexico using the corrections compact.
It’s unclear what prompted Pauline’s transfer out of Saguaro — or why he couldn’t be housed in Hawaii, instead of New Mexico.
Schwartz declined to comment on Pauline’s transfer, except to say: “The interstate compact is a tool that keeps facilities safe and secure for the inmate population and the staff members.”
Charlotte Decker, a Big Island resident who exchanged letters with Pauline for several years, says she believes his transfer was a form of punishment.
“We should err on the side of transparency and the public being able to access the information — unless it involves something like national security or life-and-death matters” — State Sen. Will Espero
Decker says Pauline told her that Saguaro officials considered him a troublemaker and kept harassing him.
In one letter Decker shared with Civil Beat, dated Aug. 3, 2011, Pauline wrote that he had been threatened by an official, who told him that he’d send him to a place where he “won’t get out alive.”
Decker says Saguaro officials eventually managed to get Pauline transferred to New Mexico.
But Steve Owen, managing director of communications at CoreCivic, points out that the company is not a party to the corrections compact.
“As such, any (transfer) would be carried out under the decision and guidance of a government partner in whose custody the resident ultimately resides,” Owen said. “Any such decision would only be made because (it’s) in the best safety and security interests of the resident, other residents, facility team members and the public.”
For his part, Ken Lawson, co-director of the Hawaii Innocence Project, says that, while he doesn’t know the details of Pauline’s case, the notion that prison transfer is being used to punish prisoners isn’t so far-fetched.
“Based on my experience in having practiced criminal law for 18 years, this is not unusual,” Lawson said. “When a warden gets upset with an inmate or doesn’t like an inmate, even when there may not be any written violations that an inmate has, they can transfer him out for reasons other than what they are really transferring him for.”
State Sen. Will Espero, who has long served on the Senate Public Safety Committee, says he’ll push to get more information about the corrections compacts.
“We should err on the side of transparency and the public being able to access the information — unless it involves something like national security or life-and-death matters,” Espero said.
Espero adds that he’ll confer with state Sen. Clarence Nishihara, who chairs the committee, to explore whether the Legislature can be briefed behind closed doors on the details of transfers — much the same way that classified intelligence matters are shared with some members of Congress.
“That way, we could be able to provide a degree of checks and balances and oversight that are needed,” Espero said.