The price tag for building a new jail to replace the crumbling Oahu Community Correctional Center could range from $433 million to $673 million, according to a team of consultants hired by the Hawaii Department of Public Safety.

The consultants told members of the House and Senate public safety committees Thursday that the estimated costs can vary depending on the location and the type of replacement facility the state ultimately decides to build.

Originally built in 1916, the Oahu Community Correctional Center has been plagued by overcrowding and crumbling infrastructure. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

In a 500-page report submitted Wednesday to the Legislature, the consultants spelled out four scenarios.

The most expensive option would be to build a high-rise facility on the Halawa Correctional Facility site — estimated to cost between $585 million and $673 million.

Building a mid-rise facility on OCCC’s current, 16-acre campus in Kalihi would set the state back between $526 million and $605 million.

Using either Mililani Technology Park‘s “Lot 17” or the site of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture‘s Animal Quarantine Station in Halawa Valley to build a low-rise facility would be the cheapest: between $433 million and $498 million.

Opting for a mid-rise design on the Mililani or quarantine station sites would be slightly more expensive: between $443 million and $510 million.

But the consultants cautioned that the estimated costs were “extremely preliminary,” and each option will have to undergo a thorough evaluation during the required environmental review process.

Early In The Process

Thursday’s briefing by the consultants was part of a lengthy planning process that the Legislature put in motion last year to replace OCCC, the oldest jail in Hawaii that has been plagued by overcrowding and crumbling infrastructure.

At the end of the year, the Department of Public Safety housed 1,236 inmates at OCCC, forcing many cells to be triple- or quadruple-booked — with sometimes two inmates sleeping on mattresses on the floor.

The need for OCCC’s replacement took on a new urgency three weeks ago, when the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii called for a federal investigation into OCCC, citing “unconstitutional and unsafe conditions.”

Hawaii Prisoners Halawa Prison board Omni Air charter Honolulu Airport. 2 feb 2017
On Thursday, the Hawaii Department of Public Safety transferred 350 Hawaii prisoners to a private prison in Arizona to make room for facility upgrades at the Halawa Correctional Facility. The plan to build OCCC’s replacement won’t affect the state’s longstanding mainland operation. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2017

But it appeared Thursday that the state still has a long way to go before it can settle on a single plan, let alone breaking ground on a new facility.

For one thing, the consultants will have to go through a lengthy process to complete the environmental review process.

Bob Nardi, senior vice president of Louis Berger, told Civil Beat that the study will likely take months. “We’re looking to complete it by the end of the year,” he said.

And some lawmakers appeared unsatisfied with the site options presented by the consultants.

State Rep. Gregg Takayama, chair of the House Public Safety Committee, questioned the consultants’ decision to narrow the search criteria to sites with at least 20 acres.

Takayama pointed out that the decision ended up weeding out smaller locations near downtown, such as the Liliha Civic Center, that could have been ideal for a jail with a modern, high-rise design — in the mold of the Federal Detention Center near the airport.

Nardi told Takayama that the criteria was set to account for things like wetlands, flood plains, wildlife habitats and “sites that may have some degree of contamination.”

“We wanted to make sure that we gave ourselves enough flexibility … and we thought the larger sites would give us that,” Nardi said.

But Nardi added that the consultants are still open to considering other sites.

“We’ll never stop looking for sites,” Nardi said. “We’re going to continue talking to the real estate community and property owners. We’ll talk to them about what other opportunities that may have been overlooked.”

A good reason not to give

We know not everyone can afford to pay for news right now, which is why we keep our journalism free for everyone to read, listen, watch and share. 

But that promise wouldn’t be possible without support from loyal readers like you.

Make a gift to Civil Beat today and help keep our journalism free for all readers. And if you’re able, consider a sustaining monthly gift to support our work all year-round.



About the Author