Transfer of Hawaii inmates to Arizona comes amid growing scrutiny of practice

Transfer of Hawaii inmates to Arizona comes amid growing scrutiny of practice

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Three tour buses filled with prisoners from Halawa Correctional Facility headed for the airport Wednesday morning.

More than 100 were in a single-file line, boarding a chartered plane bound for Saguaro, the private prison in Arizona contracted by the state Department of Public Safety.

The decade-old practice has been a source of criticism for years — but it's now getting even more national attention.

A recently-released documentary, "Out of State," highlighted some of the issues for Hawaii prisoners, many trying to maintain cultural practices while in the Arizona desert. The movie was recently featured in several film festivals.

"There are cultural challenges when our kanaka and our kamaaina get sent outside Hawaii to further their incarceration time," said Kumu Hinaleimoana Wong, who teaches cultural classes at the Halawa prison. "It's here in our home land where they're really empowered to do it."

Joshua Wisch, of the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii, said the distance from loved ones makes them more dangerous.

"If their family is here and they can visit them more often and they can keep that connection established, that helps them reintegrate," Wisch said.

The ACLU has complained about the practice for years, saying when the first 300 Hawaii inmates were flown out in 1995, it was supposed to be a temporary measure. Saguaro currently has about 1,500 inmates.

"Clearly this is the new norm," Wisch said.

In a statement, the state Department of Public Safety said, "Halawa regularly operates at full capacity. We are able to not exceed that capacity because of the ability to house inmates at a contract facility. Without that option we would regularly grossly exceed capacity and risk federal intervention and oversight."

The agency says normally there are 1,200 Hawaii inmates at Saguaro, but because the electronic locking system has to be upgraded at Halawa an extra 250 have been flown out.

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