[ OUR OPINION ]
Rising inmate numbers
call for new prisons
HAWAII is committed in the short term to finding the best bargains on the mainland for housing many of its prison inmates. Many states are coping similarly to the clash budget problems and tough-on-crime policies that has caused the nation's prison population to soar. The goal should be to reduce the number of Hawaii inmates serving their time on the mainland while steering nonviolent drug offenders away from incarceration and toward treatment and rehabilitation.
Hawaii has begun transferring 600 state prison inmates from private prisons in the Southwest to a facility in Mississippi.
Even with ambitious efforts at employing alternatives to prison, Hawaii will need to expand its prison facilities during the next decade to keep up with the increased prison population. That expansion should result in all state inmates being housed in island facilities.
More than 1,400 inmates convicted in Hawaii's state courts are serving their sentences in private, for-profit prisons in Oklahoma and Arizona. About 600 will be moved from some of those facilities to a prison run by Corrections Corporation of America, the nation's largest private prison operator, near Tutwiler, Miss.
The state has been paying $52 a day per inmate in Oklahoma and Arizona, and will pay only $43 a day in Mississippi. The cost of housing an inmate in a Hawaii prison is $102 a day, according to Frank Lopez, a state deputy director of prisons. The savings in moving the inmates from the Southwest to Mississippi is expected to exceed $1 million a year.
However, the cost cannot be measured in dollars alone. Ninety percent of those who serve their sentences on the mainland return to prison for committing subsequent crimes, while the recidivism rate for inmates imprisoned in Hawaii has been estimated at 47 percent to 57 percent. The higher rate of recidivism for Hawaii inmates imprisoned on the mainland is blamed on poor efforts at rehabilitation and lack of family support and drug treatment.
"Families are a motivating factor in the rehabilitation of inmates," says Kat Brady, coordinator for the Community Alliance on Prisons, "and families are not able to make mainland prison visits."
Hawaii's prison population, including pretrial detainees and convicted inmates on the mainland, nearly doubled during the 1990s, reaching an average of 5,657 last year. A consultant's report by Carter Goble Associates projected recently that the number of Hawaii inmates would surpass 7,000 by 2008 and reach an average of 8,320 by 2013. It recommended that the state spend nearly $1 billion to expand some prison facilities and replace existing ones to accommodate those numbers. Prison beds in Hawaii now total only 3,369.
Carter Goble pointed out that Hawaii has been better than most states in finding alternatives to prison. In 1995, Hawaii's rate of convicted inmates was 151 per 100,000 population, less than half the national average. By 2001, Hawaii's incarceration rate had risen to 269 per 100,000, but that remained much less than the national average of 373 and the average of 291 for the 11 other states with populations of less than 2 million.