Buy local? Hawaii prison program sells inmate-made items to public

Buy local? Hawaii prison program sells inmate-made items to public
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Hawaii prison program where inmates are hired to manufacture items which are then sold to the general public is expanding -- and providing real world job experience to those unable to obtain it while incarcerated.

The progam, called Hawaii Correctional Industries and managed by the state's Department of Public Safety, offers employment at several prisons, including jobs that center upon sewing, farming, sign-making, silk-screening, woodworking and scanning documents.

Zoe O'Brien, an inmate at the Women's Community Correctional Center, makes colorful bags out of donated fabric. She's serving a twenty-year sentence for drug-related charges.

"I'm doing time and I'm suffering the consequence, but it's not really suffering because I've been able to come here and learn," said O'Brien.

"What we have to offer them is an opportunity to do something different. Make a change," said Hawaii Correctional Industries Administrator Robert Mahaffey. 

There's a Hawaii Correctional Industries showroom at 801 Dillingham Boulevard, across the street from Costco in Iwilei, where items are put up for sale for the public.

Quilts from the Halawa Prison retail for $35 dollars. There are bowls from Kulani Prison on Hawaii Island, and kiddie lunchboxes with Shopkins and Teenage Mutant Ninga Turtles that sell for $12 dollars a piece.

Money earned from sales of the items goes back into the program -- and not into the state's prison's -- budget. To see some of the items for sale, you can go to Hawaii Correctional Industries Facebook page.

In January, imates participating in the program began scanning paper documents into digital files, part of Governor Ige's initiative to modernize government offices.

Now private companies can hire them too.

"We are offering an organization that will take your old documents, scan them, categorize them, put them in a way that you can search for keywords and actually put it in a digital file that can be used," said Mahaffey.

Sherrie Featheran. another WCCC inmate,  says she's hopeful her improved office skills will mean a better job when she is released from prison.

"A lot of people want to help now, and a lot of people are more willing to hire felons than they were before," said Featheran.

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