The Never-ending Prison Problem

Rick Hamada
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Wednesday - July 04, 2007

There has been a discussion about prison construction in Hawaii for as long as I can remember. The past three administrations have advanced proposed prison sites, but each time political maneuvers scuttled such plans. Consequently, Hawaii continues to languish with profound prison overcrowding.

In 1995, then-Gov. Ben Cayetano authorized the first transfer of Hawaii prisoners to two Texas facilities. He cited the cost effectiveness and the need for prison space as the primary justification. As of 2005, there are nearly 2,000 Hawaii prisoners incarcerated in Mainland prisons and, a decade later, still no new prison in Hawaii.

The demand for prison space, however, has been relentless. During the 1970s and into the ‘80s, Hawaii’s incarceration rate quadrupled. Clearly, we knew decades ago that this situation needed a long-term solution.

Let’s face it. We have abdicated our responsibility to house our Hawaii inmates in Hawaii. As much as Democrats profess support for the little guy and advocate for the oppressed, where have they been on this issue for years?

Democrats have had absolute control of this state for generations. You would think with uni-lateral control for so many years, they would have provided a solution to our burgeoning prison overcrowding. Even lawsuits and federal consent decrees barely moved the state to action.

Despite an aggressively anti-Lingle Legislature, the governor advanced this issue during her first year of office. The Lingle administration announced in 2003 that Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona would pursue a viable solution for prison overcrowding with the private sector. The same year, $1.5 million was allocated to study alternatives on the Big Island and a women’s facility. Unfortunately, these efforts died as others had in the past.

Fast forward to today. The newest wrinkle into the prison-space-or-lack-thereof firmament is a Mainland-designed-and-built penal facility that strictly accommodates Hawaii prisoners. The Saguaro Correction

Facility in Eloy, Ariz., can house up to 2,000 inmates and sounds the death knell for new Hawaii prison space.

Frankly, this isn’t such a bad idea.

There remains the indignation of some, such as state Sen. Will Espero, who lament the transfer of prisoners to the Mainland. Others bemoan the negative impact on the families of prisoners dispatched stateside. The separation is termed a hardship and a barricade to rehabilitation. I am certain it is a difficult situation.

But while there has been a failure by the state over the past several decades to make successful local incarceration and rehabilitation of prisoners a real priority, let’s not forget the fundamental issue.

If you don’t want to be subjected to a Mainland prison stay, then don’t break the law.

It’s really that simple.

Criminals must take the ultimate responsibility. When families decry the Mainland option for incarceration, their angst and ire should not be directed so much at the state as it should be levied at the criminal. If their loved one would just stay clean,

none of this would be an issue.

I am not naïve. I know there will always be criminals. But before everybody jumps on the bleeding heart express, understand the first priority in public safety is to protect the law-abiding citizen from the lawbreaker. Until the state can get its act together here at home, if we have to ship our convicts off to Arizona, so be it.

Don’t like it?

Don’t break the law.

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