New projections released Thursday suggest the jail being planned to replace the Oahu Community Correctional Center will need to accommodate more than twice as many inmates as the original Kalihi jail was designed to hold.

Consultant Pulitzer/Bogard & Associates studied years of data on the OCCC inmates, and concluded that if the Hawaii criminal justice system continues on its current trajectory, by 2024 the new jail will need 1,012 jail beds for pretrial and other inmates, and another 393 less secure beds to house convicted felons who are soon to be released.

Longtime prison reform advocate Kat Brady told the Hawaii Correctional Systems Oversight Commission after a presentation by Pulitzer/Bogard that she is “appalled” the state would contemplate building a new jail that could house as many as 1,405 prisoners at a time.

The jail originally was designed to hold 628 inmates, but with additions over the years it now has an “operational capacity” of 954. However, the facility often holds more inmates than it is supposed to, with prisoners crowded into dorms or triple-celled in many cases.

OCCC was holding 887 men and women as of July 5, which is considerably lower than the normal population at the jail. In late July of 2019, for example, OCCC held 1,170 inmates.

Oahu Community Correctional Center.
The Oahu Community Correctional Center is due to be replaced. According to a 2017 estimate, a new facility could cost as much as $673 million. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Monica Espitia, field organizing director for the ACLU of Hawaii, said corrections officials should not be talking about building a new jail until Hawaii takes steps such as reforming its bail system, and overhauls the way the state handles minor offenders and probation and parole violators.

“When you build more beds, they will fill them,” Espitia said in an interview. “They will fill those beds, and it will be filled with people who do not need to be there. It will be filled with people who could be better served in a clinic, or with housing, or with schooling, or some kind of substance abuse support.”

“There are many other ways that you can help people instead of putting them in cages that causes more harm,” she said.

In fact, executives with Pulitzer/Bogard told the commission there are a number of steps the state can take to reduce the Oahu jail population.

They estimated the average daily inmate population could be pared down by 200 or more if the state were to adopt various criminal justice policies such as reducing the numbers of people held at the jail for probation and parole violations.

Another step that would reduce the average count at OCCC would be eliminating cash bail for certain minor offenses, which has already been proposed at the Legislature.

Consultants working on the jail project expect the state will issue a request for proposals early next year to solicit bids. A 2017 report prepared for the state estimated building a new jail at Halawa would cost $433 million to $673 million, but state lawmakers have not yet funded the construction.

When asked if the Department of Public Safety is advocating that the state build a new jail that could hold more than 1,400 men, a spokeswoman for the department replied with a written statement that cited the population estimate of 1,405 in 2024.

“The Department of Public Safety’s goal is to provide safe housing for all inmates sent to our custody,” said spokeswoman Toni Schwartz in the written statement. “The current OCCC jail infrastructure and design is outdated, inefficient, overcrowded and no longer meets our needs.”

“The current OCCC program will be reviewed to ensure that the spaces devoted to intake, housing, administrative, treatment programs/services, health care, support and other functional components are right-sized so that the state of Hawaii will meet its needs without constructing a facility that is larger or smaller than necessary,” Schwartz said in the statement.

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