State soliciting ideas to modernize prisons - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

State soliciting ideas to modernize prisons

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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

State Department of Public Safety director Ted Sakai calls Hawaii's seven jails and prisons "outdated" and "overcrowded."

"We can't hold out in these facilities for too much longer," he said.

Sakai is soliciting ideas on how to modernize the facilities on every island, from the Hawaii Community Correctional Center to the prison in Halawa. The biggest upgrade would relocate and split up the Oahu Community Correctional Center.

"Build a pure detention center for those awaiting trial," Sakai said. "We're looking for ideas on whether or not a transition center would be a feasible option."

More beds would be added in every site and a new jail would be built in West Hawaii.  But inmate advocate Kat Brady believes adding prison space makes it too easy to lock up low-risk offenders.

"I worry about adding bed space because if you build it you will fill it. We know that at least 50 percent of the people who are incarcerated in our state are non-violent," she said.

"This effort could easily cost over a billion dollars. At this point in time we don't have the money to fund something like this," Senate Public Safety Committee chairman Will Espero said.

Sakai said the overhaul would be in phases over a number of years and would preferably be financed through public-private partnerships.

"It's not going to be inexpensive, we know that," he said.

Besides the normal prisoner, OCCC houses offenders who suffer from mental, social and emotional disorders, while Halawa Correctional Facility holds many older inmates.

"What we try to do is we try to retrofit. When we do that we take space away, which makes the facilities even more overcrowded," Sakai said.

To deal with it, 1,500 Hawaii inmates are locked up in Arizona while 300 are in the Federal Detention Center. The state rents the bed space.

"We would like to be able to manage these inmates in our own system," Sakai said.

He said the request for ideas gets the ball rolling but doesn't lock the state into any agreement.

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