Saturday, January 13, 2001
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Posted on: Saturday, January 13, 2001

Cayetano abandons plans for new prison

By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Capitol Bureau Chief

Gov. Ben Cayetano will not pursue plans for a major new prison in Hawaii, and instead wants to place inmates in treatment programs and rented prison beds to cope with crowding in the correctional system, according to the head of the state prison system.

Ted Sakai, director of the state Department of Public Safety, said his department is no longer reviewing potential in-state prison sites or soliciting proposals from private developers for a new facility.

"The governor took a look at it, and he recognizes that we need bed space, but he looked at the amount of capital resources we have and felt that there were better ways to invest it," Sakai said.

Sakai said Cayetano also believes it is "more cost-effective" to continue to keep inmates on the Mainland. The state pays Corrections Corporation of America about $20 million a year to house 1,200 men and women in privately operated facilities on the Mainland.

Democratic and Republican legislators said yesterday they still plan to press for more in-state correctional bed space.

House Republicans announced their proposal yesterday for a "privatized drug-treatment center." Although they aren’t calling the proposed facility a prison, Republicans want it to be "secure" so people can be confined there.

Rep. Nestor Garcia, chairman of the House Public Safety and Military Affairs Committee, said the Democrats are weighing plans for a new privately built and operated prison. While House Democrats haven’t formally announced their proposals for this year, Garcia said there has been "no major opposition" to the idea yet.

Legislators were told yesterday the prison system has about 3,600 inmates in Hawaii, many of them double- and triple-bunked in prisons and jails with capacity to hold only 3,400.

A variety of proposals to help ease crowding in the prison system are in the works:

The administration is asking lawmakers for $4 million to design and build a transitional housing facility for 150 women who are nearing their prison release dates. The extra bed space would allow the state to return to Hawaii 79 women who are now serving their sentences on the Mainland.

No site has been selected for the new facility, said Marian Tsuji, Public Safety’s deputy director for corrections.

Prison officials want to spend $12 million to add 100 medium-security beds, as well as a medical unit and space for programs at the crowded Maui Community Correctional Center.

Legislators are being asked for an extra $4.4 million to house inmates on the Mainland. That would be in addition to the $20 million the state already pays to Corrections Corporation of America to hold Hawaii prisoners.

The administration is seeking $6.5 million to lease bed space in the new federal detention center, scheduled to open later this year.

Prison and state health officials also are seeking $4.4 million they hope will provide drug treatment services for 400 to 450 offenders who are not in prison, Sakai said. That could include people who are awaiting trial or are on probation or parole.

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