Where’s the best place to put Hawaii’s largest jail?
That’s one of the big questions weighing on the Department of Public Safety.
It held an open house in Aiea Monday night to discuss 11 potential sites, and at least one lawmaker thinks there should be more options.
Oahu Community Correctional Center has been in Kalihi for more than 40 years. It was designed for 628 inmates, but now has 950 beds and sometimes as many as 1,200 inmates, most of them awaiting trial and some as part of a work furlough program.
Officials say OCCC is outdated, overcrowded, and in dire need of replacement. It provides the customary county jail function of managing both pre-trial detainees and locally sentenced misdemeanant offenders and others with a sentence of one year or less. It also provides a pre-release preparation and transition function for prison system inmates when they reach less than a year until their scheduled release.
“It helps to have the public understand the need for new facilities. If we don’t build anything, we will continue to have dilapidated, inefficient OCCC in the middle of Kalihi,” said Rep. Gregg Takayama, chair of the House committee on public safety. “It will be right next to a rail station, and so the lot could be used for so many more useful applications than housing 1,100 pre-trial inmates.”
The state wants to build a new OCCC, but where?
Among the locations being considered: the current Animal Quarantine Facility in Halawa, vacant parcels in Kalaeloa, Barbers Point Riding Club, plots of land in Mililani Tech Park or Wahiawa.
There’s also the option of building a new facility on the jail’s current site.
Takayama says he’s disappointed.
“The study limited the potential sites to those that are 20 acres in size or more,” he said. “To me, if you are going to build a new OCCC, I would build it in a high-rise design. The Federal Detention Center out by the airport can house up to 1,100 inmates, which is exactly the same size we need for OCCC. It’s built in a high-rise configuration. It only takes four acres.”
DPS held an open house at Aiea Public Library, an informal gathering that allowed the public to ask questions about the project. Afterward, officials presented the information to the neighborhood board.
“What we’re doing right now is looking at ways to reduce the number of sites that we have currently selected to a handful of sites, and then we’re going to present that to the Legislature,” explained DPS spokeswoman Toni Schwartz.
The department will also be reaching out to the following neighborhood boards and the public to share these plans and introduce staff and consultants working on the project:
Jan. 18 at 7 p.m.
Kalihi-Palama Neighborhood Board No. 15
Kalihi Union Church
2214 N. King St.
Jan. 24 at 7 p.m.
Pearl City Neighborhood Board No. 21
Waiau District Park
98-1650 Kaahumanu St.
Once a site is finally chosen, the goal is to start building the OCCC replacement jail in 2019 or 2020.
It should take about three to four years to finish construction, so it’ll still be years before we’ll see a new jail here in Hawaii.