Prisons officials seek private partnership for new jail - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Prisons officials seek private partnership for new jail

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    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.

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    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.

    More >>
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

State prisons officials said the $489 million cost of building a new jail on Oahu could be reduced significantly and constructed more quickly under a public-private partnership that's exempt from certain environmental requirements.

Meanwhile, the state prisons chief worries that chronic overcrowding could lead to another federal takeover of some prisons, a repeat of federal oversight of some facilities from 1985 to 2000.

"Conditions created by overcrowding place the citizens and elected officials of Hawaii under a cloud of liability that could threaten the continued autonomous control and supervision of jails throughout the state," said Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda, who oversees prisons statewide.

The Ige administration is asking lawmakers to approve borrowing $489 million to replace Oahu Community Correctional Center in Kalihi with a new jail at a new location: the grounds of Halawa prison.

OCCC, the state’s largest jail, is where detainees await trial and inmates serve terms up to one year. It's currently at 125 percent capacity and its facilities are antiquated. That means some cells regularly house three inmates, with one of them sleeping on the floor.

"Our intent and plan is to get the inmates who are on the floor off off it and hopefully reduce our need for reliance on the Federal Detention Center as an alternate site," Espinda said.

About 200 inmates are housed at the FDC and the state pays the federal government millions of dollars a year for that service.

The state wants to reduce the expected five- to seven-year construction time for a new Oahu jail as well as the cost by exploring a deal with a private contractor.

State Rep. Gregg Takayama, chairman of the State House Public Safety Committee, said, "A private developer who'd build a facility and have the state lease it back, I think we have to thoroughly examine that possibility because of the possibility that it could save us millions of dollars."

Espinda said: "What we hope, of course, is that we're going to bring in multiple bidders with new and proven ideas that we can entertain, review and hopefully enter into an agreement."

Prisons officials are also asking to be exempted from performing an environmental impact statement or assessment for the new jail, since it's essentially expanding a current prison site at Halawa, not building on previously unused land.

That would save at least one year from the planning process, officials said.

Douglas Murdock, the state comptroller and director of the state Department of Accounting and General Services, said, "We're looking for any way to make the schedule go faster so that we can get to the building as quickly as possible."

Espinda told reporters, "We of course would comply with any environmental requirements at the Halawa Correctional Facility."

The overcrowding problem gets worse on the neighbor islands, where the Kauai jail is at 128 percent capacity, Maui’s jail is at 154 percent and Hawaii County Correctional Center in Hilo is at 170 percent capacity, prisons officials said.

Maui State Sen. Roz Baker said, “Maui Community Correctional Center is a lawsuit waiting to happen.”

The Ige administration is also asking lawmakers for $15 million each to expand jails on Maui, Kauai and the Big Island.

Officials are also trying to re-start efforts to relocate the Maui jail, a project that has already racked up nearly $14 million in planning and design costs without any construction getting underway.

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