Ted Sakai: Back in the director's chair - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Ted Sakai: Back in the director's chair

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Ted Sakai is in the office by 6 a.m. He's lucky to leave by 5. Even at home the work doesn't stop. He checks his emails on his iPad. The job is always on his mind.

"Our mantra here now is manage our inmate population in Hawaii safely," he said.

Sakai said returning to spearhead the state's Public Safety department has been more intense than he expected. After a month back in the director's chair, his to-do list is more defined. At the top of the list is implementing the Justice Reinvestment Initiative or JRI.

He calls it rightsizing the prison system.

"If we can find other ways to safely manage the offender, perhaps in the community instead of in the prisons, we can reduce the cost of incarceration, reduce our reliance on prisons, and use that money elsewhere in the system," he said.

JRI will prepare some inmates for early release and others for release after serving their full terms. As always the key is protecting the public.

It costs about $60 a day per prisoner to house 1,700 inmates in Arizona. Sakai's goal is to bring them back in an orderly manner.

"We're taking a hard look at what the capacities of our facilities are, and then we'll determine what kind of additional prison space we'll need in Hawaii," he said. "Then we'll be able to say, 'Yes, this is how we can bring the inmates home.'"

Building a new prison will be in the discussion. And the state may need to re-open the Big Island's Kulani Correctional Facility that's being used by the Hawaii National Guard's Youth Challenge.

As for the physical state of Hawaii's prisons and jails, Sakai thinks some are in worse shape than they were when he left the public safety post in 2002, after four years in Gov. Ben Cayetano's administration.

"They haven't been maintained like they should. but there just wasn't the money to do it," he said.

This is Sakai's second go-round overseeing the state's sheriffs, corrections and narcotics enforcement divisions. He left the office ten years ago. Now he's back.

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