Gov. David Ige has selected the Animal Quarantine Station in Halawa as the site of a new jail to replace the Oahu Community Correctional Center but offered no specifics how to build it.

“With this move we will able to create a secure, efficient and cost-effective facility,” Ige said in making the announcement Tuesday. He has long favored the 25-acre site to replace the aging and overcrowded OCCC.

The formal selection follows the Office of Environmental Quality Control’s two-year-long impact study that recommended the site as the preferred location.

Still, it’s not clear exactly how the state plans to pay for the $525 million jail project.

Governor David Ige with Director of Public Safety Nolad Espinda at press conference
Gov. David Ige, right, with Director of Public Safety Nolan Espinda, announces a new jail location Tuesday. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“Once we determine what’s the best way to proceed in terms of financing this new facility we would initiate actions and request the Legislature to seek the appropriate funds,” Ige said.

The governor’s vision for a new jail was first spelled out in his 2016 State of the State speech. Since then, Ige has made it his mission to move the jail, which houses both pre-trial detainees and those inmates who have a year or less left on their sentence.

Although most of the current jail was built in the 1980s, the special holding unit dates back to 1916. It was designed to hold 954 inmates but currently houses 1,222; the state has made several changes over the years to allow for a larger operational capacity than the original design.

A variety of financing is being considered, including the selling of general obligation bonds. Another way to lower the cost to taxpayers would be a lease-back option that would have a private prison operator build the facility, but the jail operated by the state, which would make payments to the private prison company.

About 3.5 acres of the land at the new jail location belongs to the Navy.

While no evidence of hazardous substances were found at the new jail site, the Navy is monitoring the area for potential contamination from its facilities about a mile away, according to the Hawaii Department of Public Safety, which operates the state’s jails and prisons. Until the Navy’s investigations are concluded, the Navy cannot transfer the land to the state. There are no plans to put state buildings on the Navy land.

Officials need to figure out the future of OCCC before rail development plans take hold in Kalihi. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Ige’s site selection helps the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation’s rail project. Currently, OCCC occupies a 12-acre site in the Kalihi neighborhood that is a critical piece of the 20-mile, Kapolei-to-Ala-Moana route. Moving OCCC out of Kalihi would reposition it for the future, Ige said.

Once funding is obtained, the state would work to secure permits, move the animal quarantine site and then build the new jail, which could be ready to open by 2023. Inmates will then be relocated to the new jail and the old one would be demolished and plans would begin to redevelop the area for everything from retail to affordable housing, Ige said.

“I’m elated,” said DPS Director Nolan Espinda.

State Rep. Gregg Takayama, chair of the House Public Safety Committee, cautiously endorsed the governor’s site selection.

“I agree this is a good site for the new OCCC,” Takayama said. “But there will be a great deal of discussion about the appropriate size and design of the proposed facility, in view of the forthcoming reports from task forces on bail reform and correctional practices.”

For the past two years, those task forces have been looking at ways to refocus the state’s incarceration methods by offering cheaper drug treatment and rehabilitation options so that the jail would not need as many beds.

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