Returning mainland inmates will take at least 5 years

Jodie Maesaka-Hirata
Jodie Maesaka-Hirata

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – It will be at least five more years before Governor Neil Abercrombie's goal of returning Hawaii inmates from mainland prisons can be accomplished.

Jodie Maesaka-Hirata, Director of the Hawaii Department of Public Safety, updated lawmakers on the governor's plan to return inmates during an informational briefing at the state capitol Tuesday. She said 1,738 of the more than 6,000 Hawaii inmates are incarcerated in prisons in Arizona. They are on the mainland because there is not enough space in Hawaii prisons to house all of them.

Part of the state's plan is to reduce its prison population by lowering recidivism, getting suspects to court and out on bail faster, and by releasing low risk inmates back into the community.

But that alone will not be enough. So the Department of Public Safety plans to add 400 new beds at the yet to be built Puunene facility on Maui, 300 new beds at or near the site of the old Kulani prison on the Big Island, and 200 new beds at the Waiawa Correctional Facility on Oahu.

Jodie Maesaka-Hirata told lawmakers bringing the inmates home will save a bundle of money.

"The projection of the council on state government for the first year is over $9 million dollars. In the second year I believe it is over $19 million dollars, and in the third year it would be over $26-million dollars. So that's a lot of money. That's over 50-some million dollars that would be saved," Maesaka-Hirata said.

The Puunene facility is already in the works. It will have a total of more than 600 beds and will replace the aging Maui Community Correctional Center which has in the neighborhood of 200 beds. The sewage system at Waiawa needs to be improved before it can house more inmates. And the facility at Kulani, which was closed in 2009, needs a new source of fresh water before it can re-open.

If all goes as planned, all three facilities would be ready for additional inmates in the year 2017, but no sooner.

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