Hawaii Finds Itself Stuck As Others Abandon For-Profit Prisons

Source: Rui Kaneya, Honolulu Civil Beat, October 13, 2016

About a quarter of the state’s inmate population is housed in facilities run by a private contractor on the mainland. But although the tide has turned elsewhere, Hawaii Gov. David Ige said he sees no way it will change here anytime soon. “The practical reality is that there is a significant shortage of prison bed spaces in Hawaii,” Ige said in a statement last week to Civil Beat. “We have an obligation to treat our prisoners humanely and in a way that protects their rights. Halawa Correctional Facility is currently operating at maximum capacity and has been able to avoid dangerous levels of overcrowding because the state has the option of sending inmates to the contracted facility in Arizona.” … In fact, a handful of states have been doing just that — including Colorado, which has shut down four for-profit prisons since 2009, and Mississippi, which closed a violence-plagued prison last month, even though the state is still footing the bill for the prison’s construction. But it’s still unclear whether other states will begin shifting in the same direction given that for-profit companies are deeply entrenched in prison systems at the state level. Hawaii’s situation is a case in point: In August, the state awarded a new, three-year contract to Nashville, Tennessee-based Corrections Corporation of America, the largest for-profit prison company in the country, to house up to 1,926 Hawaii prisoners in Arizona. In fiscal year 2016, which ended June 30, CCA housed a daily average of 1,388 Hawaii prisoners at the Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona, about 70 miles southeast of Phoenix. That’s about a quarter of the state’s inmate population — the fourth-highest rate in the country, according to a 2015 report by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. … Four years ago, Hawaii adopted the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, an “evidence-based” measure similar to the reform efforts underway in Colorado and Mississippi. According to the Council of State Governments Justice Center, a nonprofit organization that provided technical assistance in crafting JRI, it held a lot of promise for Hawaii. By shifting resources to efforts that promote rehabilitation and reduce recidivism, the state could slash its overall inmate population by more than 1,000 by the end of fiscal year 2018 — enough to bring back a majority of prisoners from the mainland. But, as Civil Beat has reported, the initiative has so far failed to achieve its projected impacts. As of Sept. 26, the state still housed 5,836 inmates, only 224 fewer than when the initiative was adopted in June 2012. …