Lawmakers float prison proposal

  • REP. GREGG TAKAYAMA

The chairman of the state House committee on public safety has introduced a bill to purchase the Honolulu Federal Detention Center to replace the outdated, overcrowded Oahu Community Correctional Center.

The measure introduced Thursday by Rep. Gregg Takayama, a Leeward Oahu Democrat, came two days after lawmakers discussed construction of a new Oahu jail at a cost of more than a half-billion dollars — an expense that would be borne by all Hawaii taxpayers, whether directly or by repayment of construction bonds. The discussion occurred during a briefing of legislators by Hawaii Supreme Court Associate Justice Michael Wilson, who chaired a task force on prison reform.

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Big Island Reps. Joy San Buenaventura, Richard Onishi, Richard Creagan and David Tarnas signed on as co-sponsors of the legislation, which passed first reading of the entire House.

Takayama said the bill, which doesn’t specify a purchase price for the FDC, is his own proposal, but added he doesn’t “think it’s totally unrelated to the discussion of reform” outlined in the task force’s 136-page report.

“The whole task force report was dedicated to the idea that we ought to treat inmates more humanely — in other words, not put them in overcrowded conditions with three or four inmates per cell, that sort of thing. If we were to buy the Federal Detention Center, it would allow us to ease the overcrowding situation by a lot,” Takayama said.

According to the measure, the FDC was built in 2001 at a cost of $170 million, is designed to hold 1,200 inmates and currently houses 408. It notes that 160 state inmates, both male and female, are also berthed there at a daily rate of $123.19 per inmate.

Takayama said there is no indication the federal government is looking to sell FDC, which is located on the west side of Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu.

“It’s my hope that by passing this bill and maybe putting some money on the table, we’ll draw them to the negotiating table and let them know we’re serious about it,” he said.

According to the Department of Public Safety, OCCC, which is in Honolulu’s Kalihi neighborhood, listed 1,104 inmates in its Dec. 31 end-of-month population report, far more than its designed bed capacity of 628 inmates.

Takayama said because FDC “is underutilized, it’s in really good condition” despite being almost two decades old.

“It’s in better condition than any of the facilities we have in Hawaii, by far,” he said. “… The savings from not having to spend more than a half-billion dollars to build a new OCCC should be invested into improving our inmate rehabilitation and re-entry programs.”

Hawaii Community Correctional Center in Hilo, which has a designed bed capacity of 206, housed 384 inmates — 315 men and 69 women — as of Dec. 31.

“The Hilo jail is probably the most overcrowded facility we have in Hawaii, but relief is on the way,” Takayama said. “We have provided funds for a new building that would house about 150 inmates.”

Lawmakers in 2016 approved $21 million for new inmate housing at HCCC. The money, which would have to be released by Gov. David Ige for construction to occur, would cover housing, a new support building and electronic and security upgrades for the overcrowded jail.

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The current capital improvement budget contains a request by DPS for $8.1 million for new medium-security housing at HCCC.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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