Governor to seek 25-yearBy Pat Omandam
lease on mainland prison
Gov. Ben Cayetano wants to sign a 25-year lease to house Hawaii inmates at a mainland prison operated by a county government or Indian reservation.
But before the governor can even get close to signing, he must first persuade the state Legislature next year "to fish or cut bait" on whether it wants a new prison in Hawaii.
Cayetano said yesterday he will ask the next Legislature for upfront operating funds to pay for the lease on a mainland prison because he doesn't believe a deal is likely otherwise.
He expects the state to enter into a long-term contract with a government entity -- either county or tribal -- that could span between 20 and 25 years.
"You need to have that kind of commitment to demonstrate to the people on the other side that we are going to do this," he said. "So I must get the Legislature on board."
Cayetano insisted moving prisoners to the mainland is his only option unless key Big Island senators have a change of heart. Senate Ways and Means Co-Chairman Andy Levin (D, Kau) has been a leading opponent to a new prison on the Big Island. Other Hawaii senators can't decide if they want one there or where they want it, Cayetano said.
House Public Safety Chairman Nestor Garcia (D, Waipahu) has said the state has to make a decision soon about a mainland prison because the current contract to house inmates on the mainland expires in two years, and it takes 18 months to build a new medium-security prison on the mainland.
The state Legislature in 1998 gave Cayetano the authority to negotiate for a privately built prison. He has proposed a 2,300-bed prison near the Kulani prison but opposition and environmental concerns have made it difficult to get legislative approval.
The governor said leasing prison space on the mainland would cut in half what it takes to house inmates here. It costs about $90 a day per inmate to house prisoners in Hawaii.
"If it sounds like something that is cost-effective, we would want to take a look at the proposal and see if we can go forward with it," said Ways and Means Co-Chairwoman Carol Fukunaga (D, Ala Moana).
Fukunaga and Levin said yesterday they haven't seen the governor's plan. They said the additional expense to pay for the operating costs would mean a trade-off somewhere else in the next state budget.
While no Hawaii community has stepped forward to host the prison, they would be open to consider a local site if one did. And Cayetano said there would be benefits to a Big Island prison.
For example, the University of Hawaii-Hilo could open up a school of criminology or about the study of prisons that could support operations there.
But before any decision can be made, the matter must come to a head with state lawmakers.
"I have not been satisfied with the way the Legislature has responded. To authorize me to pick a site but not provide any money is like saying to me there's no prison because you can't do this unless you have a financial commitment," he said.
State Public Safety Director Ted Sakai and Attorney General Earl Anzai visited potential prison sites in Arizona and New Mexico, as well as on at least one Indian reservation, earlier this month.
In mid-September, there were 1,182 Hawaii inmates in four mainland prisons. The state prison population was at 3,562 as of Sept. 27.