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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, November 15, 2002

Lingle jail plan cost 'too high'

Gov. Ben Cayetano said he had already closely reviewed and rejected a plan that Gov.-elect Linda Lingle is considering for building an alternative prison on the Big Island to focus on drug abuse treatment.

"We were very open to the proposal," Cayetano said. "But we learned that even if the new drug treatment center is built on state land, the cost of running the program was too high."

The private company that wants to build and run the facility proposed to charge $75 per inmate per day, while private Mainland prisons Hawai'i contracts with charge about $51 per inmate, he said.

The idea to build the prison on Hawaiian home lands stems from a belief that it would be exempt from state procurement and county zoning laws and could therefore be built faster, Cayetano said, but there is some dispute whether that is true.

Cayetano's staff has been negotiating with another developer to build a new jail in Halawa Valley on O'ahu, but Lingle has asked that no contract be signed before she is sworn into office next month.

Lingle said she is interested in the Big Island plan and wants an opportunity to review the criminal justice system's needs so her administration can set its own priorities. The focus should be on drug abuse treatment and rehabilitation to prevent future crime, she said.

But Cayetano said Lingle should recognize that the Halawa jail would replace the overcrowded O'ahu Community Correctional Center and thus serve a far different purpose than the proposed Big Island facility.

OCCC has space for 954 inmates but often holds more than 1,100. The facility holds prisoners awaiting trial or sentencing and others serving less than a year, as opposed to those serving longer sentences for felony convictions.

Cayetano said his administration had considered using the new Halawa jail as a drug treatment center but opted instead to expand a center in Waiawa when money becomes available.

The problem is that OCCC is obsolete and needs to be replaced no matter what, Cayetano said.

"There is no getting around it," he said.

The state estimated that the jail would cost $130 million, but rejected a bid that far exceeded that and is now trying to negotiate a lower price.

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