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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, February 6, 2006

New prisons will need a fresh philosophy

Say, "Prisons," and people immediately think, "Not in my backyard."

But when the state has a prison overcrowding situation, and expenditures of nearly $40 million a year to ship the overflow some 1,850 prisoners to Mainland facilities, Hawai'i and its people can no longer defer the issue.

The Legislature heard two proposals for new prisons last week, one for a minimum security facility for 250 inmates at Kalaeloa; the other, a corrections and drug-treatment facility for 500 on the Big Island.

Both proposals deserve serious consideration, although lawmakers have acknowledged opposition to the Kalaeloa site from the Hawai'i Community Development Authority, which has control over the area. For the moment, specific mention of Kalaeloa has been stripped from the bill, but that site should not be permanently eliminated.

The bigger point is that the state must not think it can merely build its way out of the problem of prison overcrowding. As Hawai'i begins to construct new prisons, it's necessary to develop a consistent philosophy toward incarceration, one that understands that, at least by one estimate, more than 80 percent of inmates have some kind of chemical dependency.

That's the estimate of M. P. "Andy" Anderson, chief executive officer of Hina Mauka.

He believes a better approach to building traditional lock-ups is to combine drug rehabilitation and treatment efforts. Treatment also saves money. We agree.

New facilities will keep the prisoners we currently ship off to places like Mississippi and Kentucky right here at home. If the state can adopt a comprehensive approach that includes rehabilitation, it will be doing a lot more than simply warehousing.