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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Monday, February 3, 2003

Hasty prison decisions likely to invite waste

We urged Gov. Ben Cayetano, in his final days on the job, not to commit the state to build an expensive new jail at Halawa when a new administration, no doubt with new philosophies, was about to come on board.

Now we urge the new administration to be very deliberate, and very collaborative, in making decisions about new prison facilities.

Lawmakers have authorized the state to look at three facilities: a new jail, to replace the outdated and overcrowded O'ahu Community Correctional Center in Kalihi; a secured drug-treatment facility; and at least one transitional facility for inmates on their way out of incarceration.

In the past gubernatorial campaign, Lingle was critical of Cayetano for the appearance of deal-making out of the public eye, and rightly so. The name of the prison developer he was talking to was never disclosed. But now the Lingle administration appears to be looking for authority to do somewhat the same thing.

We generally admire measures that allow projects to get done quickly and efficiently without legislative micromanagement. But it's important that there's broad philosophical agreement between lawmakers and the governor on just what sort of construction is needed before we get too far down the road.

Indeed, one possibility is that greatly increased reliance on treatment instead of incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders, plus a fresh approach to parole violators, might substantially reduce the number of beds required.

"Interesting" is the word we'd use to describe Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona's plans to talk to Maranatha Corrections and local diet doctor Terry Shintani about prospects for a privately built and run treatment facility. Maranatha, a company with a distinct religious stripe, runs exactly one other facility so far, accommodating about 500 of California's 162,000 inmates.

Vegetarian diets and "caring, Christian staff" who call inmates Mr. and Sir are part of the drill at Victor Valley Medium Community Correctional Facility, completed in 1998. On its Web site, Maranatha says it offers an "integrated continuum of services" that "begins in the institution and ends when an offender is rehabilitated, employed and housed."

There's a lot to think about in this costly field, and not much wiggle room for miscalculations.