Members of the Hawaii State Legislature recently had an opportunity to visit the Maui
Community Correctional Center in Wailuku. It is an older facility built
to house approximately 210 offenders, but currently accommodating a
little over 300. The prison is right across the street from several
nice neighborhoods and housing developments.
As the chair of the Senate
Public Safety Committee, this was my first visit to the site, and I left
with a positive impression of the facility and its operations. Our tour
only lasted about 2 hours, but I feel my colleagues with me were also
generally satisfied with what they saw and heard.
The Legislature has funded about $42 million to replace this facility
with a new facility about 6 miles away in Puunene. There is also a $13
million federal appropriation which could be used for this project,
however, there is a question if we can use the funds for the new prison.
Unfortunately, until only recently, Gov. Linda Lingle’s Administration has done very
little to move this project along.
The Lingle/Aiona Administration received an extension
regarding the $13 million, and to my understanding the money was to be
spent by October of 2008.
At a hearing on Maui held the same day we had
the prison tour, Lt. Governor Duke Aiona stated the administration has
been in discussion with the Department of Justice, and the $13 million
should be able to be used for the Puunene project.
“Maui Prison Image”
I asked if this has
been agreed to in writing, and the answer was no. It is important to
get official documentation in writing because it is my understanding
that the state could lose the $13 million if it is not spent by October
At the hearing, the Lt. Governor also announced the new Puunene prison
could be operational by 2010. Considering that the current
Administration had done virtually nothing in its first term regarding
this project, it’s interesting that now a new prison is a priority that
could be built so quickly.
Many Maui residents at the hearing were
surprised to hear of the Administration’s plans, and some questioned the
process used to date.
I personally like the Puunene site, but want to make certain the project
is done right. Simple renderings made on a computer were distributed,
and it looked like they were done in haste for the hearing. I don’t
know how much effort was put into the design, but I question if best
practices and model, state-of-the-art institutions were considered when
completing the preliminary design.
The state also says approximately $55 million should be enough to
complete phase 1 and 2. These figures seem low to me, and between now
and next session, more information will need to be provided to the
Legislature to review these costs. I don’t want costs to start at one
point and then escalate because the project was put on a fast track to
be completed by 2010.
Overall, the site visit and hearing on Maui were very productive. A new
prison or facility which emphasizes treatment and programs is needed in
our state. If done properly, Puunene can be a model facility
emphasizing treatment and rehabilitation as well as incarceration.
Finally, Senate Bill 932 which was recently overridden by the
Legislature has received considerable attention from the Lingle/Aiona
The governor and her administrators have concerns about the measure, and feel the bill
may jeopardize public safety.
I believe the Administration is wrong,
and would like the Department of Public Safety to look at the measure
from the perspective of what must be done to accommodate our offenders
addressed in the bill.
Re-entry and rehabilitation are the trends
nationally considering the majority of inmates will be released one day.
We must help them prepare to re-enter society to lower recidivism rates,
and become productive citizens.
With creativity, proper planning,
existing programs, community-based services, and the right attitude,
returning inmates to Hawaii should not be as difficult as the
Administration is making it to be.
Department of Public Safety Interim Director Clayton Frank has his first big challenge ahead of him.
His successful implementation of SB 932 will benefit the state and Mr.
The Legislature is watching and is willing to assist where
”’Sen. Will Espero, D-Ewa Beach, is the Chair of the Senate Committee on Public Safety.”’
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