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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, January 11, 2002

State wants to close OCCC, build two new prisons

By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Capitol Bureau Chief

After a decade of frustration in the search for an acceptable site for a new state prison, officials now say the state must find sites for two new lockups.

Gov. Ben Cayetano is asking lawmakers for $1.5 million to develop plans to close the O'ahu Community Correctional Center in Kalihi and build a larger jail elsewhere on O'ahu.

A budget summary released yesterday also requests $1.5 million to plan for a new 1,000-bed "treatment facility" for convicts on the Big Island. Cayetano and Department of Public Safety Director Ted Sakai said that no site has been selected for the facility.

Most of OCCC was built in the early 1980s, and a prison consultant hired by the state predicted in 1991 that with proper maintenance the modules there should "provide adequate service" until 2031.

But Sakai said OCCC was poorly designed, overcrowded and sits on a 16-acre site that doesn't offer enough room for expansion. The facility design also makes it difficult to segregate inmates who are admitted with contagious diseases such as tuberculosis.

OCCC, which was designed to hold 954 inmates, now has more than 1,100, Sakai said. Most live in nine concrete housing modules connected by corridors, but more than 230 inmates are housed outside the main complex in wooden buildings that have "used up their usefulness," Sakai said.

He said he did not know what a new jail would cost or where to put it. "We've got to start somewhere. It's simply to start the process," he said.

Replacing OCCC will take five years or more, and finding a new site will be "a challenge," Sakai said.

Prisoners at OCCC are either awaiting trial or serving sentences of less than one year, and inmates frequently must be shuttled to and from court appearances. That means the replacement jail would have to be built on O'ahu near the urban core or near a major highway, Sakai said.

State Rep. Nestor Garcia, chairman of the House Public Safety and Military Affairs Committee, said the Kalihi site has "outlived its usefulness" and should be relocated to the more isolated Waiawa area.

"It worked in the old days, when OCCC was at the edge of town, but now you've got all this development around it," he said. "When you have some kind of incident there, you get the neighborhood all up in arms."

The proposed treatment facility on the Big Island is the latest in a string of attempts to expand available prison space in Hawai'i. The state has 1,250 inmates serving time in privately operated prisons on the Mainland because there is no room for them in state-run prisons here.

At various times the Cayetano administration has considered building new prisons for Hawai'i inmates in Arizona, at King's Landing on the Big Island, in Ka'u, and near the Hilo airport.

The state also spent more than $2.8 million in the late 1990s preparing plans and environmental reports for a proposed new 2,300-bed prison at Kulani on the Big Island, but lawmakers never put up money to build it.

Sakai said the state is now talking to a private prison operator who might build and operate the project on state land. The 1,000 new medium- and minimum-security beds would allow the state to bring most of the inmates on the Mainland back to Hawai'i.

"I'll believe it when we cut the maile lei," said Garcia, D-37th (Waipahu, Crestview), "but I'll support it as far as I can take it."