Gov. David Ige announced Wednesday that the “preferred site” to build a new jail to replace the crumbling Oahu Community Correctional Center is on 25 acres of state land in Halawa Valley that now houses the Animal Quarantine Station.
The site of the quarantine station, which is managed by the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, was selected among 12 potential locations to build a replacement facility for OCCC — the state’s oldest jail that has long been plagued by overcrowding and crumbling infrastructure.
Ige told reporters that the site has a number of advantages over three other locations considered “viable” by a team of consultants hired by the Hawaii Department of Public Safety.
The biggest advantage is the cost: an estimated $525 million, including $17.5 million to build a new animal quarantine facility just west of the current site.
That’s cheaper than building a new facility at the other locations — a site adjacent to the Halawa Correctional Facility, Mililani Technology Park‘s “Lot 17” and OCCC’s current campus in Kalihi — with estimated costs ranging from $555 million to $595 million.
The estimate cost for the quarantine station site is based on the assumption that a new OCCC will be made up of two buildings — one with 1,044 beds that holds both pretrial and convicted inmates; the other with 288 beds reserved for “pre-release” inmates who are “transitioning back into society.”
“I’m confident that we will be able to build a modern facility at the Animal Quarantine Station that relieves long-standing overcrowding and is secure, efficient and cost-effective,” Ige said.
“It’s away from residents, it would have the lowest impact to existing public safety operations, and it will have, we believe, a minimum environmental impact.”
The selection of the quarantine station site follows nearly two years of a drawn-out process in which the public’s input was sought in a series of “scoping” meetings held by the Department of Public Safety.
The environmental review process also covers the expansion of the Women’s Community Correctional Center to make room for female pre-trial inmates who are now housed at OCCC.
Ige told reporters that a separate planning process will determine what happens to OCCC’s current, 16-acre site, which is coveted for its proximity to the route of the Honolulu rail project.
Ige also noted that, since the environmental review process will go well into 2018, he won’t be seeking any funding in the upcoming legislative session for a new OCCC.
But it’s unclear whether the Legislature, once presented with a final plan, will be receptive to any capital improvement project with a price tag that exceeds a half-billion dollars.
State Rep. Gregg Takayama, who chairs the House Public Safety Committee, told Civil Beat that he still supports the selection of the quarantine station site because of its size — large enough to also house a stand-alone drug treatment facility.
“The reason that I think it’s important to build a drug rehabilitation facility as part of OCCC is that, in the long term, it will help reduce recidivism rate of our drug offenders,” Takayama said. “Right now, they’re not able to access drug treatment programs because of limitations in program space, and this will enable us to move forward in a constructive way.”
But some prison-reform advocates, who gathered Wednesday at the Capitol in protest, made it clear that they’d oppose any push by the Ige administration to build a new facility.
Kat Brady, coordinator of the Community Alliance on Prisons, pointed out that the optics of sending inmates to the quarantine station site is terrible.
“That is a pretty strong statement about what you think, about how they actually look at the people ‘in their care,'” said Brady, who held a sign that read, “From animal quarantine to people quarantine? No!”
Carrie Anne Shirota, a lead organizer for the Hawaii Justice Coalition’s SCALE campaign, noted that the Correctional Justice Task Force, which was created by the Legislature last year, will be coming out with a set of recommendations next month.
In its interim report released in February, the task force called for a philosophical “paradigm shift” that involves building a much smaller jail, with most inmates diverted to community-based programs.
“If we’re really interested in building a safer community, we need to invest in what works, and building more prisons is not the solution,” Shirota said.