Short-staffed and overcrowded. And for the state’s largest jail, that’s just the start

Updated: Nov. 20, 2019 at 6:07 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Oahu Community Correctional Center is the state’s largest jail facility, with more than 1,000 detainees. And like the state’s other jails, it’s over-capacity.

The jail, with its peaked-roof modules surrounded by barbed wire, is the latest version of facilities that have been on a Kalihi site since 1914.

Detainees at OCCC are awaiting trial, serving short sentences, or are inmates in work furlough programs. Members of the media were allowed inside Wednesday to take a first-hand look.

It was originally designed to hold 628 detainees. It has a current capacity of 954, but as of Wednesday, there were 1,071 held there.

“They’re short of staff,” said state Sen. Clarence Nishihara, who chairs the senate Public Safety Committee. “On top of that, the numbers are over-capacity for all of them.”

The state Department of Public Safety said there are 413 security staff members at OCCC, with 68 vacancies. Just over 80 adult corrections officers were out on workers compensation leave, with another 14 on extended leave.

Most of the current jail was built in the 1980s, with several modules for different detainees and purposes, all interconnected by pathways.

Nishihara said the layout is undated, and possibly unsafe.

“We’ve got a lot of blind spots, and you’re not building for, like a mall. It’s not a mall,” he said.

The security camera system dates back to the late 1990′s. And much of the facility looks rundown, including the module where detainees can meet visitors or their lawyers.

The module housing those with mental or physical illnesses also shows aging rooms and equipment.

The state wants to move OCCC to a 25-acre site in Halawa, where the current animal quarantine station is located, at a cost of $525 million.

But it’s not a done deal yet, with the legislature waiting for a funding request from the state.

There is pressure to move OCCC, in part because of the city’s rail project, which would run down Kamehameha Highway fronting the facility.

“Do we need to move it right now? I think they are pushed to move it because the city would like the land back for their transit oriented design for the rail,” said Nishihara.

The state plans to move OCCC by the end of 2023.

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