Only women’s prison in Hawaii gears up for a $40M expansion

The goal: To increase access to rehab services.

Hawaii's only women's prison gears up for a $40 million expansion

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A major change is in the works for Hawaii’s only women’s prison.

State lawmakers set aside $40 million to expand the Women’s Community Correctional Center.

The construction of a new 180-bed housing facility at the Kailua property will allow all of the female pre-trial detainees at the Oahu Community Correctional Center to be transferred.

There are currently 161 women at OCCC. One reason for the relocation is to provide more access to rehabilitation programs.

“I believe that we have a lot of good programming that we can afford to the women (as) part of the rehabilitative process -- various things from sewing to culinary to hydroponics,” WCCC Warden Eric Tanaka explained.

The Kapiolani Community College Culinary Arts program allows inmates to earn University of Hawaii credits and a KCC Culinary Arts Certificate.

“When they get out, a good maybe 90-percent of them stay in the food industry to get themselves kind of situated. They may not do it for a career, but this is a good stepping stone,” said KCC chef instructor Lee Shinsato.

One student, Amy Mitchell, is in prison for embezzlement. She hopes to open a cafe one day when she returns to Pahoa.

“I’m maxing out next year, and I really wanted to do something productive and educational with my time and walk out of here with a new skill,” she said.

Besides the cooking skills, the inmates learn about professionalism, time management and teamwork.

“It’s really teaching me responsibility. It’s teaching me that I need to stay focused and do what’s right not just for myself but for my child,” said inmate Marcie Panis.

WCCC houses 226 sentenced felons right now. There are challenges in bringing pre-trial detainees from OCCC into a prison for convicted felons.

“Obviously we’re going to have to keep them separated,” said Tanaka “The big challenge is how do we do that because we only have one medical unit that has to accommodate both.”

Construction on the new housing facility is scheduled to start in August 2020. The work is expected to be finished by June 2022.

“I think it’s fabulous. I think rehabilitation is the key. I think the only way to prevent recidivism and reoffending is to give these girls hope and purpose and further skills,” said Mitchell.

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