Despite overcrowding, Kauai jail considered a model for other correctional facilities

Published: Nov. 19, 2019 at 12:26 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Kauai’s jail doesn’t much resemble others in the islands.

It doesn’t have a guard tower and it sits alongside a busy road ― Kuhio Highway ― with no fence separating it from the Highway, just a ditch.

Old FEMA trailers from Hurricane Iniki are the first Kauai Community Correctional Center housing units from the road. The trailers have been converted into cabins for work furlough inmates.

During a state-sanctioned tour of the facility, some of the inmates at the facility mingled through an open area. Others were in the recreation area, walking around a small court. Some did handstands, others were singing out loud as music played.

And a few more men were seen working on the farm, digging the ground surrounding the okra and mountain apple trees that have never fruited.

The women have their own farm on a different side of the facility with cabbage, lettuce and tomatoes.

Both farms were wiped out during the historic floods last year. Anything on the ground had to be replanted with new soil brought in.

The farms are also open and easily accessible to the parking lot and street, but the corrections officers say they rarely have any issues.

That’s because the inmates who are allowed the privilege of farm work are minimum security, close to release or already on work furlough.

Inside the chain link fence and barbed wire are the prisoners who need more supervision, but even those didn’t object to a reporter walking through their dorm rooms and filming their cells.

The facility has gained national and international attention for its approach to rehabilitation, with teams from Japan coming for tours in just the last month.

To be sure, the jail does have its share of issues, it is.

For one, like all jails in Hawaii, it’s bursting at the seams.

The jail was designed to house 110 people, but was converted to allow 128. On Monday, the head count was 172, or 134% of capacity.

Ken Lawson, of the University of Hawaii Law School, has been outspoken about issues surrounding conditions for inmates.

He said the stacking of prisoners and pre-trial detainees at places like Maui Community Correctional Center and Oahu Community Correctional Center are a factor in recent riots and other issues.

“To see four men or five men in a two-man cell. To see men sleeping on the floor or women sleeping on the floor in a two person cell," he said.

Plans are in the works for KCCC to get another building on the property.

It will only be able to hold about 30 inmates, a Band-Aid fix because the jail will still be over capacity.

But corrections officers say it will help.

KCCC is also getting a new sallyport.

The key feature for the jail’s maintenance supervisor, Carl Braun, is the automated locking feature.

“This is anti climb wire," he said, pointing to the cage. The area also has cameras and voice activation and will allow the sheriff’s deputies to drive into a secure cage for prisoner pickups.

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