HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii lawmakers are considering a measure to improve the state's struggling correctional system by turning to the private sector for help. State Sen. Will Espero introduced a resolution on public-private partnerships for jails, prisons and other correctional facilities. A Senate panel listened to testimony from supporters and opponents during a hearing on Monday.
"The state wouldn't have to come up with the down payment or the money up front or float a bond. What we would do is, just like purchasing a home, we would pay back the company that built the facility over 20 or 30 years," explained Espero, chair of the Senate Committee on Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs.
Private sector involvement would be limited to planning, construction and financing. The state would still run the facilities. The Department of Public Safety supports the proposal since the changes could ease overcrowding and help cut the agency's costs.
"To a large extent, our overtime is driven by poor design. There are a lot of small living units. There are a lot of blind spots. There is a lot of movements that are required," said director Ted Sakai.
The Oahu Community Correctional Center turned visitors away on Saturday. Public safety officials said this happens roughly every other weekend due to short staffing or other problems. The state hopes the private sector can help renovate or replace Hawaii's seven aging correctional facilities.
"They're old. They're dilapidated. They're poorly designed. They're very expensive to run. They're very, very overcrowded," Sakai said.
Several people, however, testified against Senate Concurrent Resolution 120.
"We know our prisons are in bad shape, but are we talking about expanding beds when crime is at the lowest it has been in decades? It just seems ludicrous," said Kat Brady of Community Alliance on Prisons.
Brady warned that the state should be cautious about teaming up with some of the largest private prison companies.
"Opening the door to them in Hawaii would be really a disastrous and bad move for us. They don't want to just come in. They want to take over."
Hawaii has about 5,500 inmates. 1,400 of them are being held in a private prison in Arizona.
The Senate Committee on Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs passed the resolution with some amendments.