Relief for overcrowding at Hawaii correctional facilities years away

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - For years, officials with the Department of Public Safety have been raising concerns about overcrowding at Hawaii's prisons and jails.

And new figures show the situation is only getting worse.

The numbers are particularly shocking at neighbor island correctional facilities, where jails are more than 50 percent over capacity. According to officials, the worst situation of overcrowding is in Hilo.

The state says the Hawaii Community Correctional Center was built 43 years ago with only 22 beds. Over the years, they've installed up to 200 more beds, but that's still not enough to handle the roughly 425 inmates that it's housing.

HCCC is more than 85 percent over capacity. There has been an 11 percent jump in the inmate population in just the last four months since January, and officials say it keeps steadily increasing.

"The jails over there have been sometimes up to two, three people, maybe four people in a room," said Toni Schwartz, spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Safety.

She added, "The overcrowding creates tension. There's no secret with that. It's something that we deal with on a day-to-day basis. The staff do an amazing job. They keep control and security of facilities that should have less people. If we could reduce those numbers, we would."

On Kauai, inmates are being forced to stay in structures that were once used as temporary shelters during Hurricane Iniki.

According to the Department of Public Safety, Kauai Community Correctional Center in Lihue is 48 percent over capacity. Since last week, the inmate population has actually gone down, but only slightly.

There are about 200 inmates and only 128 beds.

Maui's jail is nearly 60 percent over capacity. The state says they only have 301 beds for approximately 470 inmates.

The state's largest jail on Oahu is actually the least overcrowded, but it is still housing way more inmates than it was originally intended to hold with a little more than 1,100 inmates for its 954 beds.

So far this year, officials say OCCC has been running about 25 percent over capacity.

Over the years, the state says it's had to make room for extra beds by taking away areas and spaces that were used for other programs and inmate services. As a result, the Department of Public Safety says overcrowding has caused "tension among inmates."

But help has arrived.

The state Legislature has released $37.5 million to address overcrowding of the correctional centers on the neighbor islands. Some $15 million a piece is headed to Hawaii Island and Kauai, with $7.5 million earmarked for Maui.

Officials say 20 percent of the budget has already been spent on the design and planning phase, and construction could begin as soon as 2020.

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