Lingle ends push for new prisons
Lack of community support prompts a strategic shift
In a major policy shift, Gov. Linda Lingle announced yesterday the state will not build any more prisons and that her administration will continue to consolidate nearly 2,000 inmates in Arizona prisons.
"It is a major change in an issue that faces the state," Lingle said.
Hawaii holds nearly 1,900 inmates on the mainland. Here is a breakdown of where they are:
» 59 men in Florence Correctional Center, Arizona
» 801 men in Diamondback Correctional Facility, Oklahoma
» 834 men in Tallahatchie Correctional Facility, Mississippi
» 150 women in Otter Creek Correctional Center, Kentucky
Lingle made her remarks during a news conference after filing for re-election, recalling campaign pledges from four years ago when she said she wanted to build two prisons.
"I think that is (now) impractical. I don't think there is community support for it, so we have developed a clear outline of how we are going to approach the prison population," Lingle said.
Instead of new prisons here, Lingle said the state will refurbish and repair the existing prisons and community correctional centers to preserve the existing prison space.
"We will continue to send prisoners to the mainland and make certain they are in facilities that have appropriate programs and are well maintained," Lingle said.
The state will also look to increase the number of community-based programs and community correctional facilities for "those who are not violent criminal," Lingle said.
The reason to stop looking for new prison construction, Lingle said, is because no one wants a prison next door.
"I cannot envision a community coming forward to support building a new prison facility of any size in this state.
"People simply don't want one in their community. There is no support for one anywhere.
"I said if a community did come forward, we would take a look at it. I haven't seen that community yet in the last four years," Lingle said.
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Saying she is running in her 10th political campaign, Republican Gov. Linda Lingle formally filed for re-election yesterday at the downtown state office building. Lingle is opposed by Democrats Randy Iwase, a former state senator and city councilman, and William Aila, Waianae harbormaster.
In her 2002 campaign, Lingle said she wanted to build two privately funded 500-bed prisons to handle substance abuse treatment. The prisons should remain in Hawaii, Lingle said then, because it would "allow important family ties to be maintained as part of the rehabilitation process."
In 2003, Lingle addressed a meeting of Child and Family Service social workers, saying that she wanted to build new prisons in Hawaii.
"This would enable inmates imprisoned on the mainland to return to Hawaii and be closer to their families," Lingle said.
Her announcement to halt prison construction plans caught state legislators off guard.
Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, judiciary committee chairwoman, said Lingle's change "goes contrary to what we have been looking at and the best interests of our society.
"To simply ship off the prisoners is extremely shortsighted," Hanabusa said.
Sen. Brian Taniguchi, Ways and Means Committee chairman, said the Lingle administration originally considered a $500 million prison rebuilding program pushed by John Peyton, former state public safety director.
Some of the planning money for that proposal had been put into the budget, Taniguchi said, but Lingle never released it.
"I don't recall that we ever got any definitive word as to what her policy would be," Taniguchi said. "There was never anything that would say we would not proceed with it."
Yesterday afternoon, Linda Smith, Lingle's senior policy advisor, insisted that the administration had made the shift in policy known by indicating during budget sessions with the Legislature that it would not include any money in the budget for prison construction.
Instead, Smith said, the budget showed an increase in the number of prisoners being transferred to mainland prisons.
"That came hand in hand with recognizing that some money has been appropriated, but with a look to existing facilities and upgrading those facilities," Smith said.
Louise Kim McCoy, state public safety department spokeswoman, said the state is focusing on "ensuring that our inmates will get the best care and programs."
"Our focus is to not just send them away. We need to think long term because we know that when the inmates at mainland facilities (return), they will have to integrate back into society," McCoy said.
The state will also work to establish more transitional housing and community-based programs, McCoy said.
Nearly 2,000 Hawaii prisoners now incarcerated in Kentucky, Oklahoma and Mississippi would be moved to three facilities in Arizona, according to McCoy.
She said that as of Monday, Hawaii had 1,844 prisoners in mainland facilities and 3,890 in state facilities.
This year, the Legislature authorized spending the money to send an additional 676 prisoners to the mainland.
Eventually, the prisoners will be held at the Red Rock Correctional Center in Eloy and the nearby Saguaro Correctional Center in Arizona.