ACLU asks feds to probe Hawaii prison over­crowd­ing

Hawaii Tribune Herald - - FRONT PAGE - By JOHN BUR­NETT

Hawaii Com­mu­nity Cor­rec­tional Cen­ter in Hilo is one of seven state-op­er­ated cor­rec­tional fa­cil­i­ties that is over­crowded and vi­o­lat­ing the con­sti­tu­tional rights of in­mates, the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union of Hawaii Foun­da­tion said in a com­plaint to the U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice dated Fri­day. The state’s prisons and jails don’t meet min­i­mum stan­dards and vi­o­late the Eighth and 14th amend­ments to the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion which pro­hibit “cruel and un­usual pun­ish­ment,” the ACLU said in a writ­ten state­ment.

“They are old. They are over­crowded. And lack of main­te­nance has made these fa­cil­i­ties worse,” ACLU Le­gal Di­rec­tor Ma­teo Ca­ballero said Tues­day.

The ACLU said the com­plaint, which re­quests a fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion, fol­lowed a year­long ACLU probe it

said out­lined “se­vere over­crowd­ing and un­der­fund­ing” in seven of the nine state-op­er­ated jails and prisons lead­ing to “sys­tem-wide de­te­ri­o­ra­tion in nearly ev­ery as­pect of func­tion­ing.”

“The most com­mon con­cerns are the num­ber of in­mates to a cell,” Ca­ballero said. “Many of the fa­cil­i­ties were de­signed for two or three in­mates to a cell, and they cur­rently house some­times four to five. … We’ve also re­ceived com­plaints about the … lack of med­i­cal and men­tal health ser­vices be­ing pro­vided. And the main rea­son is, in all fa­cil­i­ties, for med­i­cal and men­tal health work­ers, they’re short-staffed.

“We’ve also had com­plaints about the per­va­sive lack of hy­giene items and the gen­eral un­san­i­tary con­di­tions of the fa­cil­i­ties.”

“The Depart­ment of Pub­lic Safety for­warded the ACLU’s com­plaint let­ter to the Depart­ment of the At­tor­ney Gen­eral for its con­sid­er­a­tion and ad­vice this af­ter­noon,” at­tor­ney gen­eral spokesman Joshua Wisch said in a Tues­day email. “The five-part, thirty page let­ter makes al­le­ga­tions re­gard­ing events that span mul­ti­ple years over mul­ti­ple ad­min­is­tra­tions. Re­view­ing the claims made in this let­ter will take time. The At­tor­ney Gen­eral will con­sult with the Gov­er­nor and the Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Safety and re­spond as ap­pro­pri­ate.”

The end-of-month in­mate pop­u­la­tion re­port is­sued Dec. 31 by the state Depart­ment of Pub­lic Safety, the most re­cent fig­ures avail­able, listed the head count for HCCC at 321, well above the fa­cil­ity’s de­sign-bed ca­pac­ity of 206 in­mates, while the state rou­tinely lists HCCC’s in­mate ca­pac­ity as 226 in­mates.

Us­ing the de­sign-bed ca­pac­ity as a base­line, as the ACLU did in its com­plaint, would place HCCC’s oc­cu­pancy at the fa­cil­ity at 155 per­cent of its ca­pac­ity, while the state’s higher ca­pac­ity claim would place oc­cu­pancy at 142 per­cent. The ACLU’s base­line would make Maui Com­mu­nity Cor­rec­tional Cen­ter the most over­crowded fa­cil­ity in the state, at 209 per­cent of ca­pac­ity, while Kauai Com­mu­nity Cor­rec­tional Cen­ter is op­er­at­ing at 171 per­cent of ca­pac­ity.

The ACLU’s com­plaint also lists Halawa Medium Se­cu­rity Fa­cil­ity plus its Spe­cial Needs Fa­cil­ity, Oahu Com­mu­nity Cor­rec­tional Cen­ter and Women’s Com­mu­nity Cor­rec­tional Cen­ter, all on Oahu, as over­crowded.

Ku­lani Cor­rec­tional Fa­cil­ity, a min­i­mum-se­cu­rity prison 20 miles south­west of Hilo, is op­er­at­ing slightly be­low its ca­pac­ity of 200 in­mates and the Women’s Cor­rec­tional Fa­cil­ity on Oahu is at ca­pac­ity.

The Dec. 31 re­port listed 110 pre­trial de­tainees at HCCC, 93 of them await­ing trial for felony of­fenses and 17 for mis­de­meanors. That’s about 34 per­cent of the jail’s pop­u­la­tion.

“Cur­rently, in OCCC there are about 50 per­cent pre­trial de­tainees. And over­all, the en­tire sys­tem has about 20 per­cent. So, this is a big chunk of the pop­u­la­tion in jails,” Ca­ballero said.

He noted an in­creas­ing trend in abol­ish­ing cash bails in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., and sev­eral states, with judges deciding whether an in­di­vid­ual poses a danger to the pub­lic or is a flight risk, and al­low­ing de­fen­dants who don’t fit those cri­te­ria to re­main free pend­ing trial.

The ACLU sued the state in 1984, which led to a 1989 fed­eral con­sent de­cree over­see­ing Hawaii’s jails and prisons. By 1996, the state and the ACLU agreed that the state was in com­pli­ance with the fed­eral de­cree and the court or­der was dropped three years later.

In news sto­ries go­ing back to 2003, how­ever, the ACLU has com­plained the con­di­tions in Hawaii cor­rec­tional in­sti­tu­tions that prompted the law­suit and con­sent de­cree were re­turn­ing.

“The hope is that this com­plaint will be a wake-up call to ad­just a sys­tem that is not work­ing and needs re­form. And that re­form will re­quire us look­ing at who we are in­car­cer­at­ing, for what, and how long, and mak­ing dif­fer­ent de­ci­sions from the ones that we have been mak­ing in the last 30 years,” Ca­ballero said. “… We are ask­ing the Depart­ment of Jus­tice to con­duct an in­ves­ti­ga­tion and in­ter­vene if nec­es­sary. And we be­lieve it is nec­es­sary be­cause the con­di­tions are just so ap­palling that they vi­o­late the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion.

“How­ever, what we’re re­ally hop­ing to do in the long run is to start a dis­cus­sion about what are the poli­cies that got us here in the first place, and how do we ad­dress those. Be­cause the fact of the mat­ter is that this has been go­ing on for over 30 years. So our hope is that we can come into a more mod­ern vi­sion of the jails and prisons in Hawaii and that we ac­tu­ally ad­dress the root prob­lems of in­car­cer­a­tion and over­crowd­ing.”

HOLLYN JOHN­SON/ Tri­bune-Her­ald

The in­side of two in­mates’ cell is shown dur­ing a 2015 me­dia tour of Hawaii Com­mu­nity Cor­rec­tion Cen­ter.


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