OCCC is obsolete and overcrowded. What’s next for this jail is up for debate
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Between calls for tougher treatment of criminals and movements for bail and prison reform, Oahu Community Correctional Center remains in limbo.
Ambitious plans for replacement with a new facility in Halawa are on hold ― and OCCC officials are struggling with safety, staffing and maintenance issues.
On Monday, the state Department of Public Safety brought the media on a tour of OCCC to show the public once again that the facility is unsafe, obsolete and wasting taxpayer money.
The 1970s-style jail features central guard stations surrounded by cells in three-story modules. Cells can have as many as four detainees.
The inmates are mostly pre-trial; others are serving shorter sentences or have served most of their sentences in higher security and are now in transition to parole and freedom.
- Understaffing issues at OCCC reaching ‘crisis point,’ employees say
- Corrections officers: Severe staffing shortages are contributing to ‘dangerous’ conditions
- Amid fiscal crisis, state tries to think outside the box on construction of new jail
The Corrections captain escorting the media was OCCC Chief of Security Jose Rodriguez-Rosa, who doesn’t sugarcoat things, especially in the crowded mental health module.
There, detainees looked on from behind heavy glass as reporters and photographers took in the sight of heavy netting stretching out under the second-floor landings.
It seems like the kind of net trapeze artists would have at the circus. And it is.
Rodriguez-Rosa explains: “The net is so the inmates decide if they wanted to take a dive off the second floor and we don’t want to cause any harm to them that’s our protection.”
He pointed out that at Halawa High Security, which is a newer facility, the mental health units are all on a single level. “I wouldn’t have everything on the second floor,” he said.
“But you know what? We do what we have to do to make it safe for the people who are incarcerated in the state of Hawaii.”
That’s the kind of example Corrections officials want the public to see.
Acting Warden Lyle Kawamoto said the facility is not designed for its population.
“It’s just the structure. the design is not conducive to the jail type of population,” Kawamoto said. “It does hinder operations. It makes it much harder to provide all the service necessary so we do the best so long as we can ensure safety and security first.”
The maintenance challenges are obvious.
Media on the tour under countless deteriorating ceiling tiles, some exposing wires and conduits in the crawlspaces above. OCCC officials also pointed to an concrete recreation area, now deemed unsafe. Scores of detainees were get exercise in a much smaller yard.
Recreation, like other programs, is limited by lack of staff.
“Yeah, we need more officers I am never going to deny that fact,” said Rodriguez-Rosa. “The more the merrier.”
Rodriguez-Rosa also said the sprawling design and close proximity to busy streets make it hard to prevent contraband, drugs in particular, from making its way into the inmate population.
He also said inmate-on-inmate violence is common, often over food or television channels.
One positive story is the improved success of the work furlough program.
Acting Deputy Warden Wendel Yoda said fully 90% of its participants are fully employed.
They are benefiting from the labor shortage outside the jail’s walls.
“It kind of helps them get adapted quicker,” Yoda said. “They are not sitting around waiting they are finding opportunities in the community which I think is a positive thing.
“We can get them back out and have a second chance at living their life again.”
It’s unclear when there will be progress in replacing OCCC.
A request for $15 million for design was rejected by lawmakers, some of whom hope bail reform will make facilities like OCCC less necessary.
Copyright 2022 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.