Public comment sought on Hawaii Community Correctional Center expansion

  • Inmates sit on their mattresses in the "fishbowl," the overflow area at crowded Hawaii Community Correctional Center in Hilo on Feb. 1, 2017. The inmates generally spend a few days in the room until cell space becomes available. (HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald)
  • Inmates have limited space in their cells as seen here at Hawaii Community Correctional Center during a Dec. 16, 2015 media tour. (HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald)

  • Proposed site plan for Hawaii Community Correctional Center. (Hawaii Department of Public Safety/courtesy photo)

HILO — Overcrowded Hawaii Community Correctional Center is moving closer to expansion, with the publication Thursday of an anticipated finding of no significant environmental impact for a new building.

The Department of Public Safety doesn’t plan to relocate the jail from its current 4-acre site in urban Hilo — nor does it plan to add more land — in order to construct an additional 140-bed medium security unit.

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All of the state’s jails are crowded, but HCCC is the most crowded of the lot. A Nov. 30 count showed HCCC housed 387 inmates or 71% above its operational capacity of 226 beds. Thursday, that number was 392, according to Public Safety spokeswoman Toni Schwartz.

In comparison, Oahu was 27% over capacity, Maui was 38% and Kauai was 34%.

Overcrowding was one factor contributing to a March 11 riot at the Maui institution, according to Public Safety officials.

“PSD has regularly expressed, in all possible forums, our deep concerns for the admitted overcrowded conditions in our jails across the state, ” Schwartz said in an emailed response. “Until the additional bed spaces across the state become a reality, PSD will continue to do all in its power and capability to continue to operate safe, secure, clean and constitutionally compliant facilities across the state.”

A media tour of the Hilo HCCC facility in late 2017 showed crowded 10-foot-by-7-foot cells housing three inmates, one of whom had to sleep on a mat on the floor, while a 40-foot-by-40-foot enclosure behind smoked glass — dubbed “the fishbowl” — housed overflow inmates who also slept on mats.

The jail holds inmates awaiting trial as well as those sentenced to less than one year. The agency has no plans to add more inmates, but instead will use the new building to give them more space.

The jail site is at the corner of Wainuenue Avenue and Komohana Street, outside the tsunami zone, in an area at low risk for lava inundation. The medium security housing unit is proposed for development in the northwestern portion of the property, which currently contains a parking lot and a shed.

“To bring commonality among all of PSD’s community correctional centers, a prototype security housing building would be designed to meet the needs at HCCC,” the report states. “Providing standardization of the various systems and facilities will also aid in maintenance. Subsequent design objectives for the housing unit would be to implement a direct supervision housing model to aid in the rehabilitation of inmates.”

Schwartz said the agency is in the process of asking the Department of Accounting and General Services to expedite its request for Gov. David Ige to release funds appropriated by the Legislature. The Legislature had appropriated $21 million for the facility.

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The public has until July 22 to comment on the expansion plan, which can be found at oeqc2.doh.hawaii.gov/EA_EIS_Library/2019-05-23-HA-DEA-New-Housing-at-Hawaii-Community-Correctional-Center.pdf.

Comments should be sent to Department of Accounting and General Services, Project Coordinator Richard J. Louis, richard.j.louis@hawaii.gov or to Project Management Branch, 1151 Punchbowl Street, Room 427, Honolulu, HI 96813, with a copy to consultant Louis Berger U.S. Inc.; 412 Mt. Kemble Avenue, Morristown, NJ 07962 Robert J. Nardi, PP, vice president, rnardi@louisberger.com.

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