Public safety director suggests building new prison to ease overcrowding

halawa prison correctional facility guard cells

There’s a new idea to deal with overcrowding at Oahu Community Correctional Center.

Instead of building a new jail to house pre-trial inmates, the head of Hawaii’s public safety department raised the idea of moving them to Halawa Correctional Facility and building a new prison for those already convicted instead.

Nolan Espinda, Department of Public Safety director, threw out the idea while looking into possible sites for a new OCCC, state Rep. Gregg Takayama, chair of the House Committee on Public Safety, told KHON2.

Espinda said if the consultants come across property large enough for a correctional facility, the state should consider moving Halawa prison instead.

Takayama says it would cost approximately $650 million to tear down OCCC and build a new facility for its 1,200 inmates.

He says building a new prison would double that amount to $1.3 billion, but the facility would be able to house about 2,600 inmates.

“It would allow us to bring back the Arizona inmates and move OCCC to the current Halawa prison,” Takayama explained.

Sen. Clarence Nishihara, chair of the Senate Committee on Public Safety, Intergovernmental, and Military Affairs, says Espinda’s idea is not bad, but it boils down to cost, and rebuilding OCCC is already going to be expensive.

“Six-hundred-fifty-million just to rebuild OCCC alone — would that make it the most expensive public building in Hawaii?” KHON2 asked.

“Short of the rail, I guess,” replied Nishihara. “The original concept of moving OCCC to Halawa was the price tag went up to $650 million. That was kind of a game-stopper on that one. I think that’s when it kind of ground to a halt. Initially when we discussed it, it was about $485 million, which was a large number anyway.”

Sen. Will Espero says building a new prison, instead of a jail, shouldn’t be a priority. “I’m just of the opinion the legislature would not want to fund over a billion dollars in correctional facilities when we have so many other higher priorities, like new schools, new universities, transportation infrastructure,” he said.

Espinda was not available to speak to us on camera, but the department provided a statement that read: “At this time we are focused on figuring out a new location for OCCC. Other facilities discussed at the meeting were just that, discussion, and at this point there are no plans to relocate any other facilities.”

We’re told the state doesn’t not have that money in its budget, and the main priority is to replace OCCC.

A Honolulu firm has a $5 million contract to scout potential locations.

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