BY REP. ROMY CACHOLA – In his State of the State Address, Gov. Neil Abercrombie indicated that his administration issued a Request for Information (RFI) for the rehabilitation of correctional facilities statewide. The RFI sought proposals to relocate OCCC among other things. OCCC, formerly Oahu Prison, has been there since 1916 and has outlived its current location. Whenever the topic of prisons come up, the “Not In My Backyard” opposition begins, and it is mostly expected. However, OCCC is not simply in the backyard of Kalihi, it is literally located in the middle of the peoples’ living room.
Pu`uhale Elementary and St. Anthony schools are right down the road on either side of OCCC. The prison is surrounded by residential homes, small businesses, and other commercial establishments. In the future, the Middle Street rail transit station with its proximity to the bus facility is planned to be a major multi-modal hub which will bring an influx of travelers to the area. Anticipated zoning from Transit Oriented Development around the Kalihi station will breathe new commercial and residential life into the area: a reinvented community center where people can live, work and play.
This is hardly an appropriate place for a 16 acre prison that is almost a century old, has had multiple escapees, and an inadequate amount of beds and facilities. The cost of upgrading the prison will be the same if not more than the cost of building a new one in another location. The sale or lease of the land can be used to offset the cost of a new facility, and if zoned appropriately, can be turned into a major center of economic activity generating tax revenue for the State and the City. The development of land under OCCC will function as a magnet for future development.
When considering a new site, proximity to courthouses and drive time as well as proximity to the transit corridor, among other factors, should be taken into consideration.
In fact, the Department of Public Safety’s recent Request for Information (RFI) specifies, “The replacement facility(s) for the OCCC must be within a driving distance of no more than 30 minutes from the First Circuit Court in Honolulu.” To satisfy this requirement, the most prudent solution in my opinion would be to expand the Halawa Correctional Facility on land already owned by the State.
Kalihi is one of the oldest communities on Oahu and has also been a place with a high concentration of facilities for the homeless, halfway houses, and of course OCCC. Kalihi has produced many prominent businesspeople and leaders, at least three of which were governors. Ariyoshi, Waihee, and Cayetano all supported moving OCCC to a more appropriate location. With its adjacency to downtown and the airport Kalihi can become a more vital and vibrant neighborhood in the future.
Community groups such as the Kalihi Palama Community Council, past and present elected officials like myself, and others have struggled for decades to move OCCC, but that plea has fallen on deaf ears. The Kalihi neighborhood has borne more than its fair share of hosting correctional facilities. The people of Kalihi support the position of the Department of Public Safety. It is time to find a more appropriate location for OCCC.
I urge my fellow lawmakers and the administration to join with the people of Kalihi in its effort to find a suitable place for OCCC. The Kalihi community has waited for decades and the time for action is long overdue. This time, let’s make it happen.
Romy M. Cachola represents House District 30 in the Hawaii State House.