Monday, March 04, 2024|
Share this story
Contractors with Nan Inc. are working on the expansion of the Hawaii Community Correctional Center in Hilo on Feb. 18.
Project manager Randy Yumuo with Nan Inc. shows the plans for the expansion of the Hawaii Community Correctional Center in Hilo on Feb. 18.
Construction began last month on a long-planned and controversial new housing module at the Hilo jail.
Nan Inc. is the contractor building the 48-bed, 9,275-square-foot module at the Hawaii Community Correctional Center on Punahele Street.
The cost of the project is $20.7 million. Of that, $15 million was appropriated in the 2016 legislative session for design and construction, and another $5.7 million in construction funds was added in the 2021 session.
Construction of the module is expected to take 15 months.
According to state Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Toni Schwartz, the department “is seeking to alleviate the severe overcrowding that exists at the Hawaii Community Correctional Center in order to provide a safe, secure and humane environment for the care and custody of adult male and female offenders from Hawaii Island.”
The aging jail has a design capacity of 206 inmates, but aside from population dips mandated by court-ordered inmate releases during the coronavirus pandemic, the facility has been chronically overcrowded.
On Nov. 30, 2018, 16 months prior to the pandemic, the weekly population report listed 428 inmates — 342 men and 86 women. The latest available weekly population report, dated Feb. 14, lists 289 inmates — 257 men and 32 women.
HCCC is the most overcrowded correctional facility in the state, with an occupancy rate of 140.3% of design capacity. The DPS prefers to use what it refers to as an “operational capacity” figure of 226, instead of the design capacity of 206. But even using that number, the Hilo jail is still the state’s most overcrowded facility, with a 127.9% occupancy rate.
Plans for the new module call for 1,920 square feet of housing containing 24 cells with two beds each.
There also will be a 1,680-square-foot day-room, a 1,200-square-foot recreation yard, a 400-square-foot multi-purpose room, 400-square-foot viewing garden, with smaller spaces for showers, a staff station, office space, medical/interview room, staff toilet and storage.
The original concept for the expansion was a module to house 144 inmates. Those plans were scaled back to 48 beds because of lack of funding.
The plans, as approved, have been unpopular. At a public briefing in January 2019, officials from DPS and the Department of Accounting and General Services got an earful, mostly from angry neighbors who think the module now under construction will do little, if anything, to ease chronic overcrowding at HCCC — and could, instead, make their neighborhood more dangerous.
It appears community sentiment against the current jail expansion remains the same as it was three years ago.
Kiki Rycraft, president of the Halai Kumiai, a neighborhood organization, described the project at the 2019 meeting as “more or less, a lose-lose situation.”
“I think our resources are being squandered,” Rycraft told the Tribune-Herald on Wednesday. “I feel very strongly that building it there is throwing millions of dollars on a big mistake. I don’t think it’s an appropriate site. I don’t think it’s an appropriate size. I don’t think it’ll solve any
problems for them in terms of overcrowding. I just think it’s completely inadequate, and isn’t going to serve anyone’s purpose.
“The people who will be directly impacted, of course, will be the inmates. But it’s also the staff … and the families of these people.”
County Councilman Aaron Chung, who lives near the jail, said in his opinion, the state should relocate HCCC “to someplace that has more space, maybe in the lower Kulani area.”
“Once they complete this addition, we’re going to continue to play catch-up with this overcrowding situation,” Chung said last week. “And that’s not fair to the inmates, the workers and the neighbors. They should look for a long-term solution.”
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *