HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A day after Honolulu's prosecuting attorney told Kailua families that building a prison would help combat the community's crime problem, state leaders are weighing in. While officials agree that new facilities are needed, they dispute some of Keith Kaneshiro's criticisms. They said it's unfair to blame a new initiative designed to reform the criminal justice system and free up prison space. They've also heard about the need for a new prison for years.
In front of a standing room only crowd in Kailua on Thursday night, Kaneshiro said he had one solution to the crime problem.
"We need to build a new prison here," he said.
"I think that's a long stretch to say just by building a new prison, we're going to solve the Windward crime problem. We certainly need new prisons. All of our facilities are outdated, dilapidated, they're overcrowded," said state public safety director Ted Sakai.
Kaneshiro also criticized the Justice Reinvestment Initiative which is supported by many state leaders. The program is designed to reduce costs, ease overcrowding and bring home inmates housed on the mainland.
There are about 5,500 inmates in Hawaii's prison system. The number being held in Arizona has dropped by about 250 to roughly 1,450 prisoners.
"It's ironic they call it Department of Public Safety because they're the guys releasing all these people," said Kaneshiro.
"Early parolees and early release on pre-trial, there are fewer early releases than there were last year. Part of that is because the assessments are being done much better," said State Sen. Will Espero, chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee.
State officials agree that a new prison is needed. Sakai said his department is working on a prison replacement plan to present during the upcoming legislative session.
"We have known that for a decade or more that a new prison is needed, however we just haven't had the resources nor the political will to build one," Espero said.
"The people committing crimes out on the street, we can pass any amount of mandatory sentencing law," said Kaneshiro. "But unless and until we get the prison bed space all of that is really not going to matter."
In the meantime, the state plans to re-open the Kulani Correctional Facility on the Big Island next July. The prison will have space for up to 200 inmates.
A plan to build a new prison in Puunene, Maui has been under discussion since the Lingle administration.