Thursday, August 5, 1999

No plan to move
inmates, but...

Facilities at Halawa are starting
to show the effect of prisoner

By Pat Omandam


State Public Safety Director Ted Sakai says any talk about moving more inmates to the mainland to relieve prison overcrowding remains just that -- for now.

Sakai, responding to comments made by Gov. Ben Cayetano, said yesterday a decision on whether to add to the 1,200 Hawaii-inmate population on the mainland will be made later this year. The governor said earlier yesterday there is a "strong likelihood" more inmates would be sent to the mainland, and that he was to meet with Sakai to discuss it.

The latest example of prison overcrowding occurred this past weekend when about 70 Halawa Correctional Facility inmates spent Sunday night in the gym after water overflowed on the ground floor of two cellblocks. Halawa opened in 1987 and was originally designed to hold 586 inmates. It now holds 1,029.

About 1,200 of the state's 3,500 inmates are in prisons on the mainland, at four different facilities -- in Minnesota, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Sakai said it costs the state about $20 million a year to keep them there.

Sakai said he met with Cayetano yesterday but they did not discuss moving prisoners.

The department is tracking the prison population, and Sakai said he would consider the move if the population does increase later this year.

But right now, Sakai said, there are no plans to ask the Legislature next year for money to do so.

"Because the new (Big Island) prison is, at the best, three years away, we have to have a contingency plan over the next three years," Sakai said. "Moving more inmates to the mainland is something we have to consider. But we haven't made any decisions yet."

Meanwhile, House Public Safety Chairman Nestor Garcia (D, Waikele) said he would support transfers of prisoners to the mainland, but only until the new medium-security facility is opened.

"Of course we don't want to be caught in another situation where we might be facing possible court action because of alleged mistreatment of prisoners," Garcia said. "So I would advocate transfers to the mainland, with a stipulation once again, that this is only a temporary situation."

Garcia also wants an assessment of the infrastructure at Halawa to see how much it would cost to repair the problems. If there is a huge repair bill, then that is another reason for the new prison, he said.

"We need a better handle on the infrastructure at Halawa. A lot of it has been anecdotal but now we see it happening. And it's all because of the overcrowding," Garcia said.

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