Thursday, October 2, 2003

Oahu Community Correctional Center, surrounded by chain link fencing, holds 1,130 pretrial detainees in a facility intended for 628. Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, chairwoman of the Judiciary Committee, says that overcrowding could leave the state liable to a federal lawsuit.

Lawmakers inspect
crowded jail

The contrast between OCCC
and the federal detention
center astonishes the group

A Lingle administration effort to replace the overcrowded state jail won new converts yesterday as key legislators toured the Kalihi facility.

State of Hawaii The Oahu Community Correctional Center holds 1,130 inmates in a facility that was built to house 628 in a cluster of modules designed for low-security and speedy reintegration into the community.

"I hope the message we got out is how crowded we are, how antiquated the facility is and hopefully some help," said acting warden Francis Sequeira.

The House and Senate Judiciary Committee chairmen, Rep. Eric Hamakawa and Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, along with Rep. Marilyn Lee (D, Mililani-Mililani Mauka) toured the jail and the 2-year old federal detention center.

John Peyton, state public safety director, is pushing lawmakers to consider building one or two state jails based on the federal detention center model because it is more efficient than the state prison.

Peyton said the federal prison houses more than 500 pretrial detainees and can hold up to 900. The federal high-rise model, which holds 12 stories of inmates, cost less than half the estimated $150 million state planners said would be needed for a new jail. It also operates with about a third the number of guards as state jails.

"During the night shift, there are only 11 officers on duty," Peyton said.

"The contrast is phenomenal," said Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli-Makua).

She worried that if officials do not act to halt the overcrowding, the state will be open to a federal lawsuit.

"We are bringing ourselves to a constitutional challenge and it is better if we address it ourselves," Hanabusa said.

She described the facilities for women pretrial detainees a "rude awakening." More than 120 women are kept in two hot dorms without air conditioning.

"They have not been convicted of anything, but they are put in these barracks and treated worse than convicted felons," Hanabusa said.

Sequeira noted that the barracks have been a security risk because fights between female prisoners often break out and there is no way to secure all the prisoners.

"It is virtually impossible to deal with a fight or an assault," Sequeira said. "If all 120 girls want to come out and watch there is not much you can do."

He added that an escape from the women's facility in April was partially because several fights broke out at the same time. While corrections officers rushed to stop the fights, two inmates dashed out and over a fence. Since then, new fences have been installed, Sequeira said.

Peyton called the women's facility "an afterthought."


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