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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, January 31, 2003

State seeks options on prisons

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

The state's new public safety director yesterday said Gov. Linda Lingle wants to maintain the flexibility to build correctional facilities in whatever manner and wherever she sees fit.

James Propotnick, interim director for the Department of Public Safety, told the House Committee on Public Safety and Military Affairs yesterday to hold off any action on a bill that requires the administration to negotiate the development of a privately built prison in Halawa.

He said it could hinder the state's ability to decide how and where it puts up new facilities.

Also yesterday, Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona met with representatives from Maranatha Corrections, one of several groups under consideration for a proposed treatment center.

Propotnick told legislators that the administration is expecting to build no fewer than three different corrections facilities first — a secured treatment facility, a detention center that would replace the O'ahu Community Correctional Center and at least one transition center for those on their way out of the corrections system.

Directing the governor to negotiate development of a new facility would erode Lingle's ability to obtain competitive bids for such a project, he said.

The administration, Propotnick said, further should not be pigeon-holed into developing any new correctional facility at Halawa since it is still exploring options on where to put its facilities. No sites for any of the projects have yet been selected, he said.

Propotnick said there's been much confusion over what needs to be constructed, which seems to have melded into one project in the minds of many when there are at least three facilities that need to be built.

The Legislature last year authorized the money to plan the development of a medium-security treatment facility and, separately, at least one new transition center. "Plans are currently under way for both facilities," he said. The treatment facility would be geared to those prisoners who need help not just for drug addiction, but for alcoholism and other ills as well, he said.

Meanwhile, the Lingle administration is seeking $2.5 million in the upcoming biennium budget for planning money to look into a replacement for OCCC. "It is the department's intention to begin site selection and other feasibility studies in this initial planning phase to relocate the O'ahu jail," Propotnick said.

Former Gov. Ben Cayetano had been negotiating with a private company about constructing and running a 1,200-bed detention center in Halawa to replace OCCC in Kalihi, but talks broke off just before he left office.

Aiona, meanwhile, has been assigned to lead an effort to find a private vendor to build the treatment facility. The lieutenant governor yesterday spoke to Terry Moreland, chief executive officer for Maranatha Corrections, and local diet doctor Terry Shintani. The two are proposing a plan that incorporates Shintani's popular diet into Maranatha's rehabilitation treatment philosophies.

The governor's office it is still exploring all its options and no decision has been made, Lingle spokesman Russell Pang said.

House Public Safety Chairman Ken Ito, D-48th (Kane'ohe), said that while legislators believe that Halawa is the best place for at least one of the facilities, he's willing to work with the administration to "come up with something we can all live with." Ito said he is eager to see what Lingle will decide.

Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at gpang@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070. Advertiser staff writer Scott Ishikawa also contributed to this report.