Wednesday, April 4, 2001

Hawaii State Seal

State mulls privatized
correctional facility

Senate committees will decide
on a bill that affects certain
drug offenders

By Lisa Asato

The state would get a privately run correctional facility for first-time, nonviolent drug offenders under a bill moving in the state Legislature.

The Senate Judiciary and Ways and Means committees heard the bill yesterday but deferred decision-making until Friday.

Senators said there is no proposed site for the 600-bed rehabilitation facility, but Judiciary Vice Chairman David Matsuura (D, South Hilo-Puna) said he would support a site on the Big Island.

"We've been touting ourselves as the 'healing island,' and if this rehabilitation package works, talk about ultimate healing," said Matsuura, a sponsor of the bill.

Under House Bill 177 H.D. 1 S.D. 1, the Research Corporation of the University of Hawaii would be a major player in the effort to privatize the proposed minimum- to medium-security facility. Under the bill, the agency would be able to negotiate the contract and oversee everything from constructing the facility to conducting research dealing with best practices for drug abuse treatment and studying links between nutrition and criminal behavior once the facility is completed, Matsuura said.

Because of overcrowding in state prisons, the state now sends about 1,200 Hawaii inmates to privately run prisons on the mainland at a cost of about $20 million.

The bill offers a premium that is 15 percent more than the out-of-state cost and pegs the center's annual operating budget at less than the state's daily cost to house an inmate at a state facility.

"With limited state dollars, cost has to be a factor," said Ted Sakai, director of the state Department of Public Safety. One of the reasons Gov. Ben Cayetano is willing to house Hawaii inmates on the mainland is because it is cheaper to house them there than in Hawaii, Sakai said.

He added that the department believes in treatment programs because the majority of Hawaii's inmates will be paroled.

"If we don't address these problems, when they get out into the community, there's a high likelihood that they will commit a crime again."

Sakai, however, asked lawmakers to expand the scope of the program beyond first-time, nonviolent drug offenders so a larger pool of inmates could benefit from the facility.

About 20 percent of Hawaii's inmates are sentenced for drug crimes, Sakai said, but a much larger percentage commit crimes because of drugs -- stealing to get money for drugs, for example, or committing crimes while under the influence of drugs.

Sakai said two companies have expressed interest in running such a facility, including Roseland, N.J.-based Community Educational Corp., which operates 23 facilities in 10 states and has experience in providing substance abuse treatment, family counseling and vocational programs.

Union leader Gary Rodrigues, who in the past has opposed privatization of prisons, yesterday supported the intent of the measure, saying separating drug offenders from the rest of the prison population is a good idea.

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