Friday, April 16, 1999

By Dean Sensui, Star-Bulletin

To ease overcrowding at the Halawa Correctional Facility, above,
and other state prisons, many inmates have been
transferred to the mainland.

Pardoning inmates
raises concerns

The governor says without a
new prison, early releases
must be an option

By Mike Yuen
and Pat Omandam


Senate Ways and Means Co-Chairman Andrew Levin says he "certainly would expect the governor to act responsibly" if he pardons prisoners and grants others early release because a new prison isn't built.

"If the governor pardons prisoners, he should choose carefully and only pardon those who would not be a threat to society," said Levin (D, Volcano), who has long opposed Gov. Ben Cayetano's plan to build a new prison on the Big Island to alleviate overcrowding in state prisons.

1999 Hawaii State Legislature Levin's remarks yesterday came as Cayetano expressed frustration that neither the House nor the Senate included $130 million in the public works budget for financing a state-of-the-art, 2,300-bed, medium-security prison.

Given the position of both chambers, Cayetano said, "We need to take a look at reducing jail time for those who are going to be let out."

The Department of Public Safety usually knows a year in advance who is eligible for release, he added. "Maybe that time frame has to be shortened in order to lighten the load."

Then, in what appeared to be a threat, Cayetano said, "We will do this as a last resort and only if we don't get the cooperation we want to see from the state Legislature."

A privately built prison would cost much more than a state-funded facility, Cayetano insisted.

"In the end, if that's what we're forced to do, we will do that. I'm a bit disappointed that one reason why they're taking out money for the prison is that they want more money available for their pork, for their own pet projects," Cayetano asserted. "In the end, I, as governor, have the power to restrict and not release those funds. I intend to exercise that power."

Cayetano declined to cite specific examples of lawmakers' pet projects proposed for the upcoming fiscal biennium, which begins July 1, other than to say "covered walkways and swimming pools" should not have the sort of high priority that a prison carries.


Levin and House Speaker Calvin Say (D, Palolo) denied that their budgets are laden with pork. In separate interviews, they expressed fears that financing the prison would mean the state's debt service payments would balloon to a huge amount in later years.

Both chambers cut bond requests for construction projects from more than $300 million to $200 million to reduce interest payments, they said.

"It was not a position I took unilaterally," Levin added.

Say said the House's $200 million construction proposals includes $10 million for each of the state's four counties. There's also funding for public schools and the University of Hawaii, he added. Such projects, Say insisted, can't be construed as pork.

Say and House Public Safety Chairman Nestor Garcia (D, Waikele) said private financing, which Cayetano originally sought and which the Legislature authorized last year, appears to be a viable option.

They said Sen. David Matsuura (D, Hilo) reported receiving a proposal from a company claiming it can build a prison for less than what it would cost the state to build.

Matsuura declined to identify the company or the site on which it proposed to build the prison.

But he said it is near Hilo Airport and has community support. It would be comparable to the prison proposed by the administration, yet cost the state less to house inmates than in current state facilities, Matsuura said.

Cayetano and his staff were briefed on the proposal Wednesday, he added.

Garcia said Kulani, the site favored by Cayetano for the new prison, may be involved in negotiations between the state and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs over how to settle OHA's claims against the state for using lands that once belonged to the Hawaiian monarchy.

"If the prison site is going to be involved in these negotiations, I have some concerns," Garcia added.

Garcia said if Cayetano "agrees to work with us at the Legislature on how to proceed with the construction of a new Big Island prison," pardoning prisoners shouldn't be an option the governor has to exercise.

"I think we all agree that the prison has to be built. It's how we get there and how we build it that has to be worked out," he said. "I think in the next two weeks we will begin serious talks as to how we can arrive at the same goal."

Matsuura already may have the majority of his Senate colleagues behind the new site, Garcia added.

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