These inmates have access to better facilities. The price? They’re 3,000 miles from home

Eloy, Arizona is in the middle of the desert ― about an hour from Phoenix.
Published: Dec. 14, 2022 at 4:56 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 14, 2022 at 9:04 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Eloy, Arizona is in the middle of the desert ― about an hour from Phoenix.

It’s a sharp contrast from Hawaii. But it’s where 1,000 Hawaii inmates are currently housed at Saguaro Correctional Center, a facility the state pays millions to each year to relieve overcrowding at in-state facilities.

Hawaii News Now was the only television news crew allowed inside since it was built in 2007 to ease overcrowding in the islands.

SCC is privately operated, run by CoreCivic, and only prisoners with longer sentences are sent there.

While 1,000 Hawaii inmates are there now, that number can vary.

Saguaro Correctional Center
Saguaro Correctional Center(None)

In previous years, it was up to 1,500.

And unlike most of the facilities in the islands, SCC is not overcrowded.

Catch Lynn Kawano’s series, “Inside Saguaro,” all this week on air and online.

While there, HNN found an empty housing pod that can hold up to 120 prisoners. The living areas are clean, even the ones full of people. Murals also decorate the walls of the pods.

SCC is designed well, according to those with knowledge of correctional centers.

The layout makes it easier to move prisoners from the housing units to recreation yards and program centers, which are set up in the middle of the complex.

There are also a number of job training programs at SCC that are not offered in Hawaii.

“I think this is the best place compared to the others I’ve been in,” said Marwan Jackson, an inmate from Hilo who is serving time for manslaughter.


Jackson said there is also more freedom and structure compared to the jails he was in on the Big Island and Oahu.

Christin Johnson, coordinator of the state’s Correctional System Oversight Commission. said it was more conducive to rehabilitation.

“A lot of them actually prefer to be there because the conditions are so horrible here.”

The jails on Oahu, Maui and in Hilo exceed capacity, forcing some to sleep on the floor. Staffing shortages and equipment failures have led to inmate unrest, which has cost Hawaii taxpayers millions in repairs.

Lawsuits have also come at a hefty price tag.

And if conditions don’t improve, federal oversight could follow, which would result in millions more being spent to make improvements.

Johnson said money isn’t the only reason the public should pay attention.

“The vast majority of these people are coming back out,” she said. “I would rather have somebody who has received therapy, who has received programming, who has received education.”

Another consideration: The price tag. The cost to house prisoners in Arizona is much cheaper for taxpayers.

Currently, the state pays $247 per inmate, per day in a Hawaii facility. At SCC, that cost is nearly $110 per day.

That’s the amount to provide medical treatment, services and cover administrative costs.

While Saguaro saves the state money and provides a better lifestyle for those behind bars, prisoners are 3,000 miles from home and loved ones.

“That is difficult, that is very difficult,” said Jackson. “I have four children that I’m fathering through the phone.”

SCC does allow prisoners to conduct video calls in addition to phone calls, all at a cost for the inmate.

Jackson said it would be ideal if a facility like SCC could be built in Hawaii. But right now, the state is only discussing a new jail, which is meant for pre-trial detainees and prisoners with short sentences.

That means the state will continue to send inmates to Saguaro Correctional Center for many more years.