Sunday, February 4, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, February 4, 2001

Interests clash on proposed prison privatization debate continues

By Scott Ishikawa
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

The state, public workers and the Big Island mayor testified to divergent interests yesterday when state House committees held hearings on House Bill 177. The bill would allow privately operated minimum-security prisons in Hawaii.

Last year, Gov. Ben Cayetano asked for legislation to allow a privately run prison, but vetoed a "managed competition" bill that called for public unions and private companies to compete in running a Big Island prison.

This time around, State Department of Public Safety director Ted Sakai testified that although his office supports privatization of a new prison, a bill allowing privatized minimum-security prisons would be of "little value" to the state.

"We desperately need bed space for our medium custody inmates," Sakai testified.

"(A medium security) facility, if developed, would offer the state an alternative to our current and only option of contracting for medium security bed space on the Mainland," said Sakai.

Last month, Gov. Cayetano said his administration would not pursue plans to build another major state prison.

Sakai said the governor is open to the idea of privatization because it could use money saved on prison costs for education and economic development.

Sakai could not give specific figures on the proposed savings.

United Public Workers state director Gary Rodrigues said the UPW opposes the privatization bill and asked the Legislature to look again at last year’s failed bill to allow managed competition.

"The difference is we (would) have a shot to compete for the operation of the prison," said Rodrigues.

In written testimony, Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim said he opposes building a large institutional prison but would support a secured rehabilitation center on the Big Island. Kim believes Hawaii County could support a facility to house 300-400 inmates.

House Public Safety committee chairman Nestor Garcia also preferred building additional secured treatment facilities.

"I would prefer to see a facility that emphasizes treatment and rehabilitation," Garcia said.

"While people seem to be hung up on the traditional concept of a prison, a secured treatment center is something that Mayor Kim is willing to put in his backyard," Garcia said.

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