Mainland prisons cheap but problematic


POSTED: Saturday, August 22, 2009

State corrections officials have long claimed that housing Hawaii convicts at privately operated prisons on the mainland is much cheaper than incarcerating them on the islands. Problems at a private prison housing Hawaii women in Kentucky indicate that it is operating on the cheap, in comparison not only with Hawaii prisons but with public facilities in Kentucky.

More than half of the 128 female inmates from Hawaii will return to the islands for incarceration here following allegations of sexual assaults by corrections officers. Hawaii officials should have known from monthly monitoring reports over the past 19 months that the Otter Creek Correctional Center in eastern Kentucky was plagued by understaffing, poor employee morale and security concerns.

“;The biggest concern we have is the cost,”; says Hawaii Public Safety Director Clayton Frank. That is especially true during the current recession, but Hawaii officials should have been aware of the Otter Creek problems and insisted on change.

The cost of housing an inmate at Hawaii's Women's Community Correctional Center is $86 a day, compared with $58.46 a day at the private Kentucky facility. That may be due to the low pay at Corrections Corp. of America's Otter Creek, low even by Kentucky standards. A federal prison in Kentucky pays workers with no experience at least $18 an hour, while Otter Creek pays $8.25 an hour, and nearby Kentucky state-run prisons pay $9.22, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.

In 11 of the last 19 monthly monitoring reports obtained by the Courier-Journal, staffing was cited as a problem, the newspaper reported last Sunday. Kentucky state monitor Darrell Neace reported in June that “;OCCC is on 12-hour shifts and (workers) are struggling.”; A year ago, then-monitor Deborah Patrick reported that Otter Creek officers “;are exhausted, and several have expressed their concern to me.”;

Tommy Johnson, deputy director of Hawaii Public Safety, said a recent review found 81 percent of the Otter Creek workers were male and 19 percent were female, the reverse of what Johnson said the ratio should be. Johnson asked CCA to hire more females, and the company initiated a bonus program in June to do so.

Five corrections officers at Otter Creek have been charged with having sex with inmates in the past three years, and four were convicted. The other case is pending trial. Additional allegations of sex abuse are reportedly under investigation.

Transferring inmates back from Otter Creek will bring Hawaii state prisons to 97 percent to 98 percent capacity, while 91 percent to 92 percent would be ideal, Frank said. The problems at Otter Creek should prompt Hawaii corrections officials to be more aggressive in determining whether private facilities on the mainland are performing their jobs adequately. When the recession ends, the Hawaii Legislature should readdress the issue of building more prisons on the islands.