Hawaii’s prisons and jails have been overcrowded for years. The situation is especially dire at neighbor island correctional facilities, where jails are at least 50 percent over capacity and can have up to four people in a room.
Hawaii Community Correctional Center is more than 85 percent over capacity. Built 43 years ago with only 22 beds, HCCC added 200 more beds over time, but still struggles to house its 425 inmates.
With 301 beds for about 470 inmates, Maui Community Correctional Center is almost 60 percent over capacity.
Kauai Community Correctional Center is 48 percent over capacity with 200 inmates to 128 beds. Inmates are housed in structures that were used as temporary shelters during Hurricane Iniki.
OCCC, the state’s largest jail located on Oahu, is the least overcrowded but it is still running approximately 25 percent over capacity with 1,100 inmates for its 954 beds.
Operating correctional facilities over capacity is expensive. According to a study by Vera Institute, in 2015, Hawaii’s prison population was 6,063. Each inmate cost an average of $29,425 with personnel comprising the biggest part of state prison expenditures.
Overcrowding is also known to cause unsanitary living conditions, spread illnesses and diseases, create stress, and result in more violence and prison riots. In order to accommodate more beds, the state had to take space away from inmate services, thus furthering tension between inmates. Overcrowding and recurring lockdowns were to blame for a riot at Oahu Community Correctional Center that ended up injuring three correctional officers in September 2017.
In January 2017, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Hawaii filed a complaint to the U.S. Justice Department, alleging that severe overcrowding and underfunding in seven of the state’s nine jails was causing health and safety risks.
In 2018, the State Legislature announced the release of $37.5 million for neighbor island correctional facilities. Big Island and Kauai are set to receive $15 million each, with $7.5 million set aside for Maui. An additional $40 million was budgeted to finish construction of the new women’s prison, which is expected to free up space OCCC.
While help to Hawaii’s overcrowding in prisons and jails is on the horizon, construction will likely not start until at least 2020. In the meantime, increasing the use of electronic monitoring devices has been suggested a way to alleviate overcrowding and expenditures.