Prisons proposed for Kalaeloa, Big Island
By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer
By Derrick DePledge
With Hawai'i's prisons and jails overcrowded and the state planning to send more prisoners to the Mainland, legislators are trying to prod the Lingle administration to support new correctional facilities in the Islands.
One idea that will be heard this morning in the state House is to build a minimum-security prison for 250 inmates at Kalaeloa on land controlled by the Hawai'i Community Development Authority. A state senator from the Big Island, meanwhile, told state prison officials yesterday that despite previous community opposition, they should seriously consider the Big Island for a corrections and drug-treatment facility for 500 inmates.
Both the Lingle administration and state lawmakers have struggled over the past few years with how to solve prison overcrowding, given that communities have resisted new prisons in the past. The state has not built a new prison in nearly two decades.
The administration is asking the Legislature for an additional $12 million to send 700 more inmates to private prisons on the Mainland. The state already pays about $40 million a year to house about 1,850 inmates at prisons in Arizona, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Kentucky.
"We have to look at the long term and whether we can continue to give them money to export prisoners," said state Sen. Lorraine Inouye, D-1st (Hamakua, S. Hilo).
The administration has proposed two new 500-bed drug-treatment facilities, but the idea has not been advanced with any more detail. The state Department of Public Safety has plans to replace the O'ahu Community Correctional Center in Kalihi with a new facility in Halawa by 2013. The department plans to replace the Kaua'i Community Correctional Center by 2010.
The administration is also looking for a private partner for a 500-bed community corrections and treatment facility that would help felons ease back into society. The state's goal is to complete the facility by 2010, and state prison officials have said they are waiting for a community to show interest.
Inouye said yesterday that she believes the Big Island would be receptive. She said families have complained about a lack of adequate drug treatment for prisoners and the emotional hardship of having prisoners sent away to the Mainland.
"All I'm saying is let's move this along because our prison population is not going to decrease," she said.
Frank Lopez, the interim director of the state Department of Public Safety, said he agreed with Inouye that the Big Island could be a potential location for a new correctional facility.
"That's the direction that Public Safety wants to go in terms of expansion," he said.
While a large new prison might reduce the number of inmates sent to the Mainland, state Rep. Pono Chong, D-49th (Kane'ohe, Maunawili, Enchanted Lake), suggested that a smaller minimum-security prison at Kalaeloa might relieve some pressure at Waiawa, the only minimum-security facility on O'ahu.
Chong said the prison would offer drug treatment, education and job training to help prepare inmates for their release. His bill, which will be heard this morning by the House Public Safety and Military Affairs Committee and the House Water, Land Use and Ocean Resources Committee, would also require all state inmates to participate in facility programs unless they are limited by medical or mental health reasons.
Chong said inmate housing at the new prison could be similar to the metal-framed, tent-like structures being used at Schofield Barracks for Hawai'i National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers returning from Iraq.
His bill would provide $4 million toward the planning, design and construction of a minimum-security prison.
"This would be a first step toward helping people we know are going to be back out on the streets," Chong said.
Previous suggestions for a prison at Kalaeloa have been met with community opposition, and a prison is not part of the authority's master plan for the region. Stanton Enomoto, the HCDA's director of planning and development for Kalaeloa, said the authority will oppose a minimum-security prison "in deference to the community."
The authority hopes Kalaeloa will become a mixed-use development that would fit within the plans of growing Kapolei and a West O'ahu campus for the University of Hawai'i.
"We really want to make that area part of the new urban center out at Kapolei," Enomoto said.
Reach Derrick DePledge at email@example.com.