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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -
The head of the state corrections system admitted overcrowded conditions at the state's largest prisons plays a role in the injuries and even deaths of inmates and staff.
At Oahu Community Correctional Center in Kalihi, it's not usual for three people to share a 70-foot cell that was originally designed to hold one inmate. That means one of the three sleeps on the floor.
"It's terribly overcrowded. The attorneys won't like me saying this," said State Public Safety Ted Sakai.
OCCC's official operating capacity is 954 but as of June 30, the inmate population there was 1,208 inmates.
Sakai said overcrowding plays a role in injuries and deaths of inmates and staff, because the crowded conditions make it difficult to separate inmates by classification and needs.
"We have a lot of inmates who come out who are mentally ill who have other kinds of disabilities or other kinds of behaviors that make it difficult for them to function in this closed, crowded environment. And we have difficulty separating them," Sakai said.
Sakai said the crowding leads to more fights and disputes between inmates, putting more pressure on corrections officers.
For more than a decade, the state has paid the federal government to house state prisoners at the Federal Detention Center on Elliott Street by the airport, trying to ease crowding at OCCC and some neighbor island prisons.
"Conditions are much better at FDC. The biggest factor is the fact that they're not overcrowded like OCCC is," Sakai said. "It's immensely helpful to us."
Lawyers and prisons officials said when prisoners are transferred from OCCC, which was built in the 70s and 80s, to the federal detention center, which opened in 2001, the prisoners like the new facility better. That's because it's cleaner, quieter and less crowded.
At the end of June, the state had 234 inmates at the federal facility. The state spent $11.4 million in the last year housing prisoners there.
The state pays the federal government $101 a day per prisoner at the FDC. That's less than it costs the state per prisoner each day at OCCC, approximately $125.
"Our cost per day is high mainly because we require so many more staff to operate than FDC," said state Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Toni Schwartz. "Their efficiency with a more modern facility allows them to operate with less staff. That's means less overhead and admin costs for them too."
In addition, federal detention center will not handle mentally-ill or really violent inmates, which require more staff.
It's even cheaper, just $75 a day per inmate, at a private prison in Arizona which is home to about 1,400 Hawaii inmates. And the cost of the Arizona inmates includes air transportation.
Arizona has a much lower cost of living than Hawaii and the prison officers working for Corrections Corporation of America are not paid as much as Hawaii guards, whose pay starts at $41,448 a year as recruits.
In the fiscal year ending July 1, the state paid CCA $46.8 million for its Arizona prison operation.