A study says the state must
upgrade facilities immediately
or risk violating federal rules
The state should immediately spend $300 million to build, repair and maintain its prisons, according to a draft report prepared by private consultants for the state.
The new report calls for spending $500 million on prisons over the next decade and replacing all state-run community correctional centers, according to two state senators briefed on the draft by CGA Consulting services and Wilson Okamoto & Associates.
Sens. Brian Taniguchi and Colleen Hanabusa said the consultant's report warns that if the state does not act, it could be found to have violated federal prison standards, which could leave the state vulnerable to lawsuits by prisoners or their advocates.
"The consultant said to continue to not do anything would clearly put the state in jeopardy if someone filed a suit," said Taniguchi, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
Gov. Linda Lingle declined last week to discuss the report until it is final, but she called the draft "sobering."
In September, Lingle said she wanted to start work on replacing jails that house more than 1,500 pre-trial prisoners and inmates serving a year or less.
"You can expect there will be proposals to replace some of the existing jail facilities as well as a new prison," she said three months ago.
John Peyton, the state public safety director, has been lobbying for Hawaii to build jails similar to the 2-year-old, 12-story federal detention center near Honolulu Airport. The jail houses more than 500 defendants awaiting trial but can hold up to 900.
Peyton declined to discuss the draft report, saying that it would be made public after it was finished during the next week.
"We still have to prioritize what needs to be done, but we are not minimizing it," Peyton said.
According to Taniguchi (D, Moiliili-Manoa), the report recommends spending $500 million for construction, repair and maintenance in the next decade. Just the planning will cost $17 million, he said.
"We need to redo or replace the jails ... but we can't do everything the consultant said to do immediately," Taniguchi warned.
Peyton, who described the current state prison plan as "a jigsaw puzzle that hasn't been put together," said that Lingle wants the state to bring home 1,400 Hawaii inmates now in mainland prisons.
Former Gov. Ben Cayetano was forced to send prisoners to mainland facilities because the state did not have enough local prison space.
There are about 5,500 inmates now in state custody, and Hanabusa said that number is expected to grow to 8,000 during the next decade.
"We are going to have to decide where we spend our money; whether we prioritize or not, this is something we are going to have to pay for," said Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli-Makua).
One way to save money, Hanabusa suggested, would be to build a federal-style, high-rise prison and include room for courts and county prosecutors in the facility. This would cut the costs of transporting prisoners to court hearings, she said.
The state should also consider moving the responsibility for jails to the counties, because county police make arrests and county prosecutors handle the court cases. The state would be required to handle inmates found guilty, Hanabusa said.