Hawaii lawmaker says money alone won’t ease the overcrowding in Hawaii jails

Updated: Dec. 2, 2019 at 10:29 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Instead of spending more money, a key Hawaii lawmaker want to find ways to keep more people out of jail.

At Hawaii Community Correctional Center in Hilo, one housing unit holds both female and male inmates together.

There are four inmates to a cell that is designed for two inmates at Maui Community Correctional Center.

After the riot at MCCC in March, Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda blamed overcrowding.

But as the legislature prepares for a new session of budget requests, the chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee says more funding alone won’t solve the problem.

"Looking at pre-trial detainees and how we can make the system better to get them not held if not necessary. It would reduce some of the numbers we got in there,” said Senator Clarence Nishihara.

"I think throwing money is not always the answer,” said Kat Brady, the coordinator for Community Alliance on Prisons. “We need to look at who's in there and right now we know that 74-percent are in for the lowest felonies and below."

Inmates rights advocate Kat Brady believes too many non-violent offenders are locked up.

She says costly incarcerations can be prevented with education and addiction treatment.

"We need more programs in the community for substance abuse. Meth is still our largest problem,” said Brady. “We’re incarcerating people and yet people know you can get drugs in prison.

The current focus on improving Hawaii’s correctional centers comes after Espinda faced widespread criticism and only barely got confirmed for a second term.

"The prison is ripe with all kinds of problems. And I part of it I think is definitely as a result of the leadership,” Nishihara said. “Because there is a question of trust as well, can you trust that the information they give you is actually correct?”

To help ease overcrowding, new housing projects are in the works for MCCC, HCCC and Kauai Community Correctional Center.

The department did research and planning for up to 80 beds for Maui but said the money they were appropriated, $7.5 million, only allows for 32 beds.

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