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.
Prisons in Hawaii
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.
Why Hawaii’s Prisons Need an Overhaul
When it comes to the United States criminal justice system, Hawaii may not be the first state that comes to mind. But the state’s prisons are in desperate need of change. Though Hawaii has one of the lowest incarceration rates in the country, its prisons are overcrowded, understaffed, and frequently cited for inhumane conditions. In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at why Hawaii’s prisons need an overhaul, and what can be done to improve them.
Hawaii’s prisons are some of the most overcrowded in America
Overcrowding: Hawaii’s prisons are some of the most overcrowded in America. As of late 2020, the state’s prison system was at 144.9% of capacity. That means inmates are crammed into small cells that are often designed to hold fewer people. Overcrowding can lead to violence among inmates and staff, unsanitary conditions, and inadequate medical care. In addition, it makes social distancing impossible during pandemics like COVID-19.
Staffing shortages: Hawaii’s prisons are also severely understaffed. As of January 2021, there were over 400 vacant positions in the state’s prison system. This means that the remaining staff is overworked, stressed, and unable to provide the level of care and attention that inmates need. It also makes it easier for contraband to make its way into the prison, which can exacerbate existing issues like drug addiction and violence.
Inhumane conditions: Hawaii’s prisons have been criticized for their inhumane conditions. In 2015, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the state’s prison system for its treatment of mentally ill inmates. The lawsuit alleged that the prison system routinely forced mentally ill inmates into solitary confinement, deprived them of basic necessities like food and water, and failed to provide adequate medical care. The suit was settled in 2018, but similar issues persist in Hawaii’s prison system to this day.
Recidivism: One of the biggest problems with Hawaii’s prison system is its high rate of recidivism. According to a 2017 report from the Hawaii Department of Public Safety, nearly 60% of inmates released in Hawaii were rearrested within three years. This indicates that the current system is not working to rehabilitate inmates or prepare them for life after prison. Addressing the underlying issues that lead to criminal behavior, such as addiction and mental illness, would go a long way in reducing recidivism rates.
Solutions to Hawaii’s prison crisis
Solutions: There are many possible solutions to Hawaii’s prison crisis. One is to reduce the number of people in prison by addressing the root causes of criminal behavior, such as drug addiction and poverty. This can be done by providing better access to mental health care, drug treatment programs, and education and job training. Another solution is to invest in more staff and resources for the current prison system, so that inmates can receive the care and attention they need. Finally, Hawaii could consider alternatives to incarceration, such as restorative justice programs and community-based sentencing, which have been shown to be effective in reducing recidivism rates.
Hawaii’s prison system is in desperate need of change. Overcrowding, staffing shortages, inhumane conditions, and high recidivism rates are just a few of the problems that need to be addressed. By investing in alternative solutions and addressing the root causes of criminal behavior, Hawaii can reduce its reliance on prisons and provide better outcomes for both inmates and society as a whole.