Arizona prison that houses Hawaii inmates could influence design of long-stalled Oahu jail

“I think everyone’s frustrated."
Published: Dec. 15, 2022 at 5:49 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 15, 2022 at 6:33 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A private prison in the middle of the Arizona desert could offer some design solutions for the state ― should a new jail be built on Oahu.

Saguaro Correctional Center currently houses about 1,000 Hawaii inmates with long sentences.

Christin Johnson, of the state Correctional Oversight Committee, said the set-up of Saguaro was ideal for the movement of prisoners, which helps corrections officers, too.

“It was really well laid out,” Johnson said.

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“I really liked how they had a lot the programming and recreation was right in the center.”

She said that makes those areas easily accessible to from the housing units and prevents groups from mixing.

The set-up is what she wants to see if a new jail is built in Honolulu.

The Oahu Community Correctional Center is in desperate need of an upgrade, but there has been no progress in years. “Everything is on hold for now,” said Tommy Johnson, director of the Department of Public Safety.

Johnson said DPS asked for $15 million for design and construction plans to move forward, but lawmakers denied the request last legislative session. Meanwhile, the projected cost of a new OCCC grows every year.

In 2017, the estimate was $500 million. The new estimate is nearly $600 million.

The location for the new OCCC was chosen by former Gov. David Ige.

Ige wanted the jail built on the land currently used by the animal quarantine facility in Halawa.

Johnson said a new jail is needed to address the many problems at OCCC ― from overcrowding to broken equipment. Lawsuits have cost taxpayers millions. And violence is spiking again at OCCC.

Here are the numbers of fights per year for the jail, as reported by the state:

  • 2018: 32
  • 2019: 73
  • 2020: 51
  • 2021: 75

In 2020, at the start of the pandemic, the number of fights dropped because inmates were forced to stay in their living areas and many pre-trial detainees were released.

Johnson, of DPS, said the agency will ask for the $15 million again in the upcoming legislative session.

“I think everyone’s frustrated,” Johnson said, adding he does believe funding will be provided this time.