State's public safety deputy in charge of prisons leaving for New Mexico job

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – Another high-profile member of Gov. Neil Abercrombie's administration, state Deputy Public Safety Director Joe Booker, who oversees state prisons, is stepping down.

Abercrombie has been governor for less than a year and a half and this departure makes 13 top officials who've already quit his administration, including four of them who left within a 24-hour period last fall. Abercrombie's chief of staff and deputy chief of staff were among those high-level departures last October.

Booker has been the deputy director for corrections at the department of public safety since early last year.

He told Hawaii News Now Friday he's resigning to become the deputy commissioner for operations for the New Mexico state corrections department in Santa Fe. Booker said his last day overseeing operations in Hawaii's prisons will be April 13.

Booker said he's moving to New Mexico to be closer to his four children, who live in Arizona and Texas.

A source said he's told friends that the New Mexico job will give him a raise from his current $95,000 salary, plus a house and vehicle. Hawaii offers no housing allowance for his position but does provide a vehicle allowance for the public safety director and her deputies, sources said.

Booker has more than 35 years of experience working in corrections at the federal and state levels.

Booker's departure comes as the state is working to bring home about 1,000 Hawaii prisoners from the mainland within the next three years, an idea being championed by Abercrombie.

"Abercrombie has a lot of good ideas.  It's just that they're going to take time," Booker said in a telephone interview Friday.

Reached for reaction to Booker's departure, his boss, Public Safety Director Jodie Maesaka-Hirata, said, "He's been an integral part of our administration and we're going to miss him.

"His departure is going to affect corrections, because he's a good man and he's brought great knowledge to us," she said.

Maesaka-Hirata said the Abercrombie's administration's plans to bring more inmates home to Hawaii won't be hurt by Booker's departure because other top staff have been working on that issue while Booker has handled day-to-day operations of prison facilities.

"I think our foundation is solid at this point," she said.

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