KALIHI, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A veteran corrections officer at Oahu Community Correctional Center has been arrested and charged by federal authorities with selling crystal methamphetamine.
And a key lawmaker said the first priority needs to be to replace OCCC, which continues to battle a contraband problem, partly because people are able to throw drugs, cigarettes, cell phones and other items on some of the roofs of the buildings along Dillingham Boulevard.
On June 17, corrections officer Warren Ray Rivera, Jr., who's worked at OCCC for nearly ten years, was arrested by federal agents.
He's been charged with dealing crystal meth to an undercover Drug Enforcement Administration officer, but he is not suspected of dealing drugs at OCCC.
A DEA affidavit said Rivera admitted to selling two ounces of methamphetamine worth $2,600 to an undercover officer in Aiea April 9 and confessed to dealing another four ounces of the drug for $5,800 on April 21.
On June 16, the DEA said Rivera brought eight ounces of crystal meth to a Waipahu rendezvous point where he admitted he planned to sell the drugs for $11,200, the DEA said in court papers. He made the confessions after a DEA agent arrested him in Waipahu.
Rivera told DEA agents he was selling the drugs "to pay for his daughter's party," the DEA said in court papers.
Rivera remains employed by the prisons department, according to a Public Safety spokeswoman. She said she could not disclose any potential discipline until it had been determined and all appeals by the employee had been exhausted.
He has been released on $50,000 bond.
Sources said Rivera occasionally filled in as a sergeant, meaning he supervised other corrections officers at OCCC on temporary assignment as a supervisor.
Meanwhile, contraband continues to be a problem at OCCC, with officials confirming a routine sweep found narcotics, drug paraphernalia, tobacco and $14 cash hidden by prisoners last weekend.
Staffers said prisoners are able to hide contraband in the ceilings of some OCCC buildings.
"It was built as a minimum security facility. It was never intended to provide the function it is now as a medium security facility. Plus, it was never meant to house the number of inmates it's housing now," said State Rep. Gregg Takayama, a member of the House public safety committee, who was spokesman for the prisons department in the late 1990s.
He said the real answer is to build a new jail.
"A new OCCC along the lines of what we have at the Federal Detention Center, all enclosed, no windows or doors, no roofs so that people on the outside can throw contraband on the grounds," Takayama said. The FDC operates with half the staff compared to OCCC, he said.
"It's dysfunctional. It's been dysfunctional for years," Takayama said. "I think both the legislature and past and present administrations bear a big part of the responsibility for failing to address the need for OCCC for years."
This year, the Legislature set aside $5 million to begin planning a new OCCC. The state has received 14 proposals following a request for information from private firms interested in building new prison facilities in Hawaii or providing services for those prison buildings, according to Toni Schwartz, a spokeswoman for the Public Safety Department.
Takayama said he envisions building a new OCCC on the grounds of the Halawa prison, because the state already owns the land and there's room to grow there.
"We can enjoy some economies of scale by combining health care and kitchen facilities in Halawa," Takayama said.
Under one scenario, Takayama said the state would sell the current 17-acre OCCC site along Dillingham Boulevard and use the money to build the new OCCC in Halawa. Takayama said the cost of a new facility could be in the range of $150 to $200 million. But he said the state might bring in more money than that by selling the OCCC site, since it lies between two future rail transit stations.
Some people have proposed building a new prison in Ewa or Kalaeloa, which would spark protests from people who live nearby.
A Halawa location would also be relatively close to Circuit and District Court in downtown Honolulu, where most OCCC inmates must be transported for trials, corrections officials said. Having a jail facility in Ewa or Kalaeloa would create long commute times for prisoners going to and from court, officials said.