Senate set to pass bill for prison study, inmates' return
State Senate Democrats want Hawaii's 174 female prisoners who are now jailed on the mainland returned to isle prisons by mid-2009.
Senate Bill 917, which is expected to clear the Senate today, also would order the state Public Safety Department, which runs Hawaii prisons, to identify three potential sites for new prisons within the state.
And state prison officials would be directed to study selling or leasing the 16-acre Oahu Community Correctional Center property along Dillingham Boulevard in Kalihi and use the money from its sale or lease to build a new facility.
Senate Bill 917 is among 380 bills expected to be approved in the Senate today then sent to the House for further consideration.
The bill directs the Public Safety Department to prepare a plan for returning all female prisoners by next January. Prisoners would then have to be back in Hawaii by July 1, 2009.
Legislators critical of the state prison system have asked for changes in state prison policy after Gov. Linda Lingle announced last year that she would not try to build any more prisons in Hawaii.
"I cannot envision a community coming forward to support building a new prison facility of any size in this state," Lingle said last year.
Senators, including Senate President Colleen Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli-Makua) said at the time of Lingle's announcement that it "goes contrary to what we have been looking at and the best interests of our society."
A Senate committee report issued yesterday said it was important for both the female prisoners, now housed at Otter Creek Correctional Center in Kentucky, and their families to return them to Hawaii.
"This relocation not only affects the prisoners, but, equally if not more importantly, it can have an adverse effect on any minor children of these women prisoners who are left behind in the state," the Ways and Means Committee report stated.
Razor wire tops one of the fences at Oahu Community Correctional Center. CLICK FOR LARGE
In testimony before the Senate Public Safety Committee, bill supporters said united families would benefit both prisoners and their families.
"Children are the unintended victims of policies which house women out of state," said Lorraine Robinson, executive director of TJ Mahoney, a prisoner support program. "Allowing women to restore family ties, through taking responsibility for their negative choices and making amends, is extremely difficult while women are housed in mainland facilities."
Written testimony provided by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs agreed with Sen. Will Espero, Public Safety Committee chairman, that female prisoners have a better chance of rejoining society if they are in contact with their families.
But OHA noted that even jailed offenders say "opportunities for program services are more available in mainland correctional facilities than in Hawaii and they would prefer to stay in the mainland facilities."
Iwalani White, interim public safety director, told the Public Safety Committee in January that the administration "appreciates the overall concept of this bill as it includes initiatives supportive of our goals, but we are concerned about the cost implications."