OCCC gets help from feds to ease overcrowding

State's largest jail gets help from feds to ease overcrowding

KALIHI, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Oahu Community Correctional Center, the state's largest jail, has been chronically overcrowded for decades, so crowded that it's routinely sending inmates to a nearby facility to lessen the cramped conditions.

The main buildings at OCCC in Kalihi were built in 1975, meant for a capacity of 628 inmates. But almost since it opened, it has been overcrowded.

The inmates at OCCC are either awaiting trial or serving sentences of a year or less.

Prison officials took the media on a tour of OCCC Friday, the first time in years reporters and photographers have been given a tour there.

Friday, there were 1,164 inmates at OCCC, officials said, about 200 over its official capacity of 980.

"We have an ever-changing population," said OCCC Chief of Security Denise Johnston. "They could be here from one day to one year. So it's ever-changing and the numbers are ever evolving.  So we just try to keep it moving, try to keep the flow."

In some modules, three inmates sleep in small cells with two bunk beds, a sink and a toilet. A third inmate has to sleep on the floor.

Asked to identify the facility's biggest problem, Johnston said, "overcrowding," which she said has been an issue for her entire 31-year career at OCCC.

To alleviate overcrowding, OCCC rents extra space from the federal government, sending groups of 25 to 40 inmates to the Federal Detention Center near the airport once or twice a week.

The jail must accept all the inmates sent there by the courts.

'We're at the mercy of the courts," Johnston said.

Reporters were shown OCCC's Annex One, from which inmate Daniel Skelton escaped in June of 2014 by climbing through a hole in the ceiling over the showers. Since that embarrassing escape, prison work crews have completely reinforced the ceilings. Skelton was re-captured a few days after his escape.

Also on display Friday in Annex One: Star Wars-themed holiday decorations that tied for first-place in a contest. Many of the decorations were made from recycled boxes, paper and other used materials. The winning inmates received pizzas as their prize, part of an effort to keep inmates active, even in overcrowded conditions.

"You know with the decorations and the classes and recreation, so that they don't have to be in-cell as much as possible," Johnston said.

The overcrowding at OCCC gets worse on the weekends. That's because there are some people who serve weekends-only sentences and other detainees who are awaiting court appearances on Monday.

Prison officials are also grappling with overcrowding at Halawa Prison.

MOBILE USERS: Click here for a slideshow tour of OCCC, and click here for a slideshow tour of Halawa Prison.

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