Tuesday, March 9, 1999

Closure near for fed
OCCC supervision

An ACLU official praises the feds
and state for prison system improvements

By Harold Morse


Almost 15 years of federal supervision of Oahu Community Correctional Center has moved closer to an end.

"I've always felt that it wasn't my business running any of these things," U.S. District Judge Samuel King said, while signing two partial orders. "I've never thought really that the solution is to build more prisons."

Alvin Bronstein, director emeritus, National American Civil Liberties Union Prison Project, praised King's actions, also commending the state for corrective actions. The litigation brought by ACLU led to longtime federal monitoring of two state facilities, with the Hawaii women's prison facility being removed from federal supervision last year. Yesterday's action affected only OCCC.

The federal watchdog role fell into three categories -- environmental, correctional and medical. Judge King's action dismissed the environmental and correctional aspects of federal supervision.

The medical oversight was provisionally terminated pending a federal report expected to be out March 15.

The class-action suit raised several issues of constitutional violations in the Hawaii prison system, including overcrowding."A lot of hard work was done by a lot of people, and they all deserve a lot of credit, both in the state and the federal, and other agencies," King said after court adjourned.

Bronstein said in a news conference outside court that 15 years ago Hawaii prisons were 19th-century horrors. Although not country clubs now, they're far better than they used to be, he said.

Bronstein advocated more community-level handling of prisoners, including drug rehabilitation.

The state attorney general issued a statement that a mandatory population limit of 1,107 inmates exists at OCCC and the population is now 892.

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