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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Citing high price, state rejects plan for new jail

By Johnny Brannon and Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Staff Writers

The state yesterday rejected a development group's proposal to build a new 1,100-bed jail in Halawa Valley but hopes to strike a deal for the project at a lower price within four months.

Gov. Ben Cayetano said the head cost is one issue being negotiated.

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Gov. Ben Cayetano said the new facility would replace the obsolete and crowded O'ahu Community Correctional Center and could become the state's first privately operated jail.

"Right now the proposal that's on the table is that they will build it and they will lease the services to us," Cayetano said. "They will build it, they're prepared to even operate it, and one issue we're negotiating right now is the head cost, what it would cost the state per head, the kind of programs that would be involved, that sort of thing."

Durrant, a Mainland company that has built jails and prisons in other states, was the sole respondent to a request for proposals for the project, leading some lawmakers and fiscal watchdogs to question whether the state would receive a good price.

State officials who reviewed the proposal by Durrant and its partners rejected it because the price was "substantially higher than anticipated," said Mary Alice Evans, Department of Accounting and General Services deputy director.

She said procurement rules prohibited her from disclosing the amount unless a contract were finalized. The state had estimated that the jail would cost up to $130 million to design and build.

Durrant officials could not be reached for comment yesterday and previously would not name their partners in the venture.

Cayetano said the Legislature had authorized him three years ago to negotiate directly with developers for a new correctional facility without seeking competitive bids but that the state sought additional offers to make sure it did not pay too much.

He said he was not overly concerned that only one group bid on the project.

"It's not troubling to me. It's what happened," Cayetano said. "It's an indication to me that this particular area, providing services for incarceration, you don't have too many people doing it."

Republican lawmakers have called on Ted Sakai, Department of Public Safety director, to brief them about the project Thursday.

"A lot of us were caught by surprise at how fast this is moving, how big it is, and how little legislative oversight there was," said House Minority Floor Leader Charles Djou, R-47th (Kahalu'u, Kane'ohe).

He said he favored having a private company operate the new facility if it's less costly to operate.

"I think the proof on the Mainland is that private prisons can run more efficiently, providing the same level of public safety, but saving the taxpayers money," Djou said.

But others say they are adamantly opposed to privatizing state correctional facilities because that could create a profit motive to keep them filled with inmates who would benefit more from drug-abuse treatment and other programs outside jails or prisons.

"I hope they're not lured by the private prison buzzards who have been circling Hawai'i for years," said Kat Brady, coordinator of Community Alliance on Prisons, a prison reform group. "I really think that turning over our people to the lowest bidder is immoral."

Cayetano said no decision had been made whether a privately operated jail would have a unionized work force but that he did not believe the developers were opposed to having union workers.

"That is a matter that is up to negotiations," he said. "We don't intend to negotiate and say that they must use union people. We're going to look at the different proposals and see what the cost will be. But they told us they have no problems using unionized workers."

Cayetano said officials would consult with the Kalihi-Palama neighborhood that surrounds OCCC before deciding what would become of it if the inmates there are transferred to a new jail. Some in the neighborhood favor turning the site into a light industrial park, he said.

Reach Johnny Brannon at 525-8070 or jbrannon@honoluluadvertiser.com.