Old Hilo Jail to Be Demolished in Coming Weeks

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A ceremony was held at the Old Hilo County Jail building on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019.

The landmark is set to be demolished in the coming weeks.

Sen. Lorraine Inouye, Hawai‘i County Managing Director Wil Okabe and Chief Court Administrator Lester Oshiro attended the ceremony, along with Public Safety and Department of Accounting and General Services (DAGS) representatives, and representatives from project contractor Heartwood Pacific.

The Old Hilo County Jail. Jan. 10, 2019. PC: BIN


Demolition and abatement of the jail is targeted to begin next week. The contractor and engineers will start with removing the plumbing and electrical wiring before moving on to material salvage. The take down of the building is currently scheduled for mid-February. New electrical wiring, top soil and grass will be put in after that. The project is expected to be completed by July 2019.

The Old Hilo County Jail. Jan. 10, 2019. PC: BIN

“This was a long time coming,” said Hawai‘i Community Correction Center Warden Peter Cabreros. “I’m sad to see it go, but I know that this now opens up more space for future jail redevelopment.

The Old Hilo County Jail. Jan. 10, 2019. PC: BIN



The old jail occupies a large square next to the current Hawai‘i Community Correctional Center (HCCC). It was designed by architect O.G. Traphagen and built by John Cook in the late 1890s at a cost of $13,895. The two-story, rectangular red brick building housed 11 6-by-8-foot cells.

Inside the Old Jail. Courtesy photo.

There was no mess hall, storage room, kitchen or toilet facilities in the original design. All of these things were added at a later date and located in what is described as a wooden shed on the back side of the building, which collapsed around 1999. This shed and other wooden structures joined by the old brick jail was part of the perimeter of a recreational yard where inmates were released for daily activities.

The Old Hilo County Jail. Jan. 10, 2019. PC: BIN

The building stopped being used to house inmates in 1978. Warden Cabreros can remember a time when the old jail was still in use.

The jail will begin to be demolished next week. Courtesy photo.


“It brings back a lot of memories,” said Warden Cabreros. “When I started working as a jail officer in 1975, the jail was under the management of the Hawai‘i County Police Department. On my first day of work, I participated in my first headcount. The total count was one inmate. Within a year, the jail was turned over to the state Department of Social Services and Housing. We eventually moved all inmates into the Punahele Housing Unit in 1978, with a count of 32. Things were a lot simpler back then.”

The Old Hilo County Jail. Jan. 10, 2019. PC: BIN

The jail was turned into HCCC’s business office and maintenance unit until it was condemned it the early 2000s.

The Old Jail. Courtesy photo.

Over the years, the Department of Public Safety has made efforts to find a group willing to relocate and preserve the building, but none came forward due to the extensive cost of moving and renovating such a large and heavy structure.

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