Lawmakers eye construction of big facility in Waiawa to tackle prison overcrowding

Lawmakers eye construction of big facility in Waiawa to tackle prison overcrowding
Updated: Feb. 23, 2017 at 5:36 PM HST
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PEARL CITY, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - For decades, the state has struggled with overcrowding at most of its jails and its prison.

Now, lawmakers are looking to solve the issue with one big project in Central Oahu.

"What we're proposing in this bill would (be to) build a correctional facility that's large enough to take inmates that we have in Arizona plus the inmates we have at Halawa prison now, combine them in one facility and move OCCC inmates into the vacated Halawa prison," said state Rep. Gregg Takayama, whose district includes Pearl City, Waimalu and Pacific Palisades.

Takayama said the plan would allow the state to stop shelling out $50 million a year to keep prisoners on the mainland.

The 3,000 bed maximum-security penitentiary would be built right next to Waiawa Correctional facility.

For the first time Thursday, state prison director Nolan Espinda said he fully supports the plan.

When asked how much it would cost, he replied, "I wouldn't venture a guess."

State Rep. Ryan Yamane said because the site is remote, it would need big utility upgrades. That could bump up the price tag into the billions, he said.

And, he said, that's not the only issue he has with the idea.

"There is a lack of information being shared with the community," he said. "This measure allows the suspension of the environmental impact statement and the current process that public safety has been going through in finding another selection site."

Takayama said there will be an environmental impact statement and public input.

House Bill 462 lays out the proposal and, if approved, would require a firm plan with cost estimates by next year.

Members of the House Finance Committee decided they needed more time to look over the bill Thursday. They'll bring it up again Tuesday.

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