Discussion to Continue on Relocation of HCCC

February 13, 2020, 8:19 AM HST (Updated February 13, 2020, 10:06 AM)
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The discussion to look into a new location for Hawai‘i Correctional Community Center has moved to the Finance Committee.

On Wednesday, the Public Safety, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee approved House Bill 1918, which would create a task force to study and recommend to the legislature a site for a new jail to replace HCCC’s primary facility in downtown Hilo.

Rep. Chris Todd, (Keaukaha, parts of Hilo, Panaewa and Waiakea) was the primary sponsor on the bill. He said the language is somewhat broad right now.

“It doesn’t make much sense for Hilo to host inmates for the whole island,” Todd said.

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Todd doesn’t anticipate the bill to have issues passing the Finance Committee. If it does, the legislation will cross over to the Senate for approval.

HB1918 is mostly For planning purposes.

The task force will have a year to talk with stakeholders and identify a new site for the jail. However, Todd said, it’s looking like it will be a six-month project.

“We’re so over capacity and it’s really becoming a crisis in serving this population and the employees,” Todd said.

Todd said HCCC is the most crowded jail in the state and it’s in the middle of Hilo town.

Todd thinks it makes the most sense to have two facilities — one in East Hawai‘i and the other in West Hawai‘i.

“We need to go through the public process and think this through,” he said.

Nolan P. Espinda, director of the Department of Public Safety, supports the bill.

“Overcrowding is a significant problem at HCCC, as well as at other facilities statewide,” Espinda said. “PSD respectfully recommends that funding be appropriated to hire consultants to initiate a siting study to identify, evaluate and ultimately select the best option to relocate and replace HCCC.”

Funding for the task force would come out of the general fund. While no amount has been set, Todd doesn’t anticipate it will cost a huge amount of money.

The public supports the measure as well. Hilo resident Ron Terry submitted written testimony to the PVM Committee, which strongly supported the creation of a task force to brainstorm moving the jail into a more appropriate site.

“Our residents have tried to be understanding neighbors to the jail for the last 100 years, but it has grown from a small facility designed for 12 prisoners into a substantial correctional facility that now houses over 300 prisoners,” Terry said. “As the jail has grown, escapes and other incidents have increased, leading to community and school lockdowns and fear.”

Terry said increasing the number of beds on the 3-acre lot is not the solution. The optimal plan would be to find a site that that can accommodate the prisoners humanely and allow them outdoor recreation, gardening and other activities.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat. Tiffany is an award-winning journalist, receiving recognition from the Utah-Idaho-Spokane Associated Press and Society of Professional Journalists. Tiffany grew up on the Big Island and is passionate about telling the community’s stories.
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