Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Prisoners of Ice: The issues

 •  State program is bridge to world outside prison
 •  Ready to get out — on the right path
 •  Frustration, defiance put parolee back behind bars

By Johnny Brannon
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawai'i is struggling to control a crystal methamphetamine epidemic that has put tremendous pressure on the state's criminal justice system. Among the pressing issues are:

Prison and jail capacity

All Hawai'i's jails and prisons are full or over capacity at most times. Some facilities are severely over-packed and unsafe. The state hopes to replace jails in every county soon and build at least one secure treatment facility or prison. A Mainland company has proposed building a new prison for Hawai'i inmates in Arizona, but no decision has been made.


Hawai'i's correctional facilities are falling apart from age and hard use. A state-commissioned master plan estimates it will cost nearly $1 billion during the next decade to replace and expand jails and prisons if the inmate population continues to grow as projected. Immediate state concerns include:

• The Halawa Correctional Facility does not have necessary fire safety sprinklers and other infrastructure and "the state will face serious liability if there is a fire, especially in view of the chronic overcrowding at the facility," according to state budget documents. The prison's dilapidated "Special Needs" wing "has exceeded its useful and cost-effective life" and "should be demolished as soon as possible," according to the master plan.

• The Waiawa Correctional Facility is plagued by power outages lasting five days or longer and needs a backup generator. The 1940s-era housing units have no sprinklers and do not meet fire codes. And the facility's wastewater system doesn't comply with environmental regulations.

• An air-conditioning unit at the O'ahu Community Correctional Center is broken beyond repair, and hundreds of inmates would have to be removed from sealed portions of the facility if remaining units fail. The aging jail is poorly designed and expensive to operate and is a replacement priority for the state.

• The Maui Community Correctional Center in Wailuku is severely over capacity and may be replaced with a new jail in Pu'unene.

• Cheap cabins built as emergency shelter after Hurricane 'Iniki now house inmates at the Kaua'i Community Correctional Center but are over capacity and don't meet building codes. The state hopes to replace the entire outdated facility.

• A five-mile stretch of the Stainback Highway leading to the Kulani Correctional Facility on the Big Island is in such bad shape that state vehicles are frequently damaged.


Up to 85 percent of the state's inmates need some form of drug- or alcohol-abuse treatment, but only a fraction receive it in custody, officials say. "Without proper treatment services they will more than likely re-offend and re-enter correctional facilities after their release. It is more costly not to provide these services," according to a state budget report.


More than 1,300 Hawai'i inmates are serving their sentences in private Mainland prisons because there is no space for them here. The arrangement sends more than $28 million out of the state's economy each year, cuts prisoners off from their families and exposes them to a Mainland prison gang culture that is more serious and tightly organized than has existed here. The mindset is being exported to Hawai'i's prisons and streets, officials say.


Illegal drugs are smuggled into jails and prisons by some inmates, visitors and guards. More than 370 inmates tested positive for drug use during the six months that ended last May, and ice was detected in 69 percent of those cases.

Staff shortages

A dearth of correctional officers, nurses and social workers has inflated overtime costs and left major gaps in the jail and prison system.


Medical costs are steadily rising in and out of prison, and inmates often have more serious health problems than in prior years because of lengthy addictions, poor nutrition and a lack of preventative care.


Parole and probation officers are juggling more cases than ever, making it harder to keep a close watch on offenders living outside prison. The Paroling Authority is asking for permission to hire eight more officers and expand treatment programs.

Drug Court

The combination of treatment and strict supervision has proven effective at turning lives around, but Drug Court is not available equally on all islands yet. Moloka'i and Lana'i are particularly underserved.

Act 161

The 2002 law that requires probation and treatment for first-time drug offenders is riddled with problems and included no money to pay for treatment. Most agree the Legislature must amend or repeal it.


A 1996 law requiring mandatory prison terms of up to 10 years for ice offenses can be used to force defendants into strict Drug Court programs, but critics say it takes discretion away from judges and has helped fuel prison crowding.

Insurance parity

Treatment advocates want to remove lifetime caps on treatment covered by insurers, so that serious substance abuse is paid for in the same manner as mental illness. Insurance companies say changes are unnecessary in some areas and would drive up costs in others.


Hawai'i's residents are fed up with the ice plague and want action. Community groups, churches and other organizations are helping take their message to the streets.


The Hawai'i Drug Control Strategy Summit, led last September by Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, brought together a wide spectrum of people with ideas for fighting ice and other drugs. He and Gov. Linda Lingle are expected to announce the administration's proposals soon.


A Joint House-Senate Task Force on Ice and Drug Abatement has recommended spending $21.6 million to attack ice on multiple fronts. The package would include money for prevention, treatment, Drug Court expansion and an environmental study.


Addressing the ice epidemic effectively will take cooperation and commitment, but some fear that political warring between the Republican administration and Democrat-controlled Legislature will leave problems unsolved.