Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Policy shift in housing prisoners

Both House and Senate Public Safety chairs agreed today that they are looking to make a major policy shift by bringing Hawaii prisoners back home from mainland prisons, starting with the women. As of this date, the Department of Public Safety has no proposal or plan to make this happen, but the department has determined the potential costs involved. For example, in Kentucky, the cost per prisoner per day is $58.43, compared to Hawaii at $93.46 per day. There are currently 175 Hawaii women incarcerated in the Kentucky women's prison, but based on a number of 120 prisoners, it costs the state about 2.5 million per year to keep the women in Kentucky compared to 3.5 million per year to move them back to Hawaii. Add other expenses, and it could cost between $1 and 2 million more per year to house the women in Hawaii. While it may be cheaper to send prisoners to the mainland, the legislators believe that policy has its pros and cons.

Here are some notes from the briefing:

Arizona - Saguaro and Red Rock: Legislators agreed that both are impressive, new facilities, although they are a great distance from the community. Saguaro opened last May and Red Rock opened in July. They are so new that they are not fully operational, and it may be another 18 months before they are. Rep. Evans was struck by the simplicity of the buildings, basic concrete tilt-up design, inexpensive but effective. The Red Rock facility has a majority of prisoners from Alaska. The Alaska contract calls for their prisoners to get meat at meals three or four times a week, and the lucky Hawaii prisoners get to take advantage of that benefit.

Letters from prisoners: Senator Espero brought to the hearing a number of letters from prisoners complaining about the conditions. He followed up with the department on a few of them because "while they may seem small, they are important to the prisoners." We learned that the state is charged 25 cents per minute for phone calls made by Hawaii prisoners in Arizona. That seems expensive considering that phone calls by Hawaii-based prisoners are only 3 cents per minute. The department will check on it. The phone calls on the mainland are taped, and stored for 30 days. Hawaii does not tape phone calls, but performs random monitoring, meaning that sometimes a guard is listening while the prisoner makes a call.

There was a complaint that prisoners don't get computer time. The department clarified that prisoners do get to use the computer, but they are not allowed to access the Internet.

There was a complaint that prisoners don't have access to the Law Library. Actually, all prisoners are allowed access to the Law Library for a minimum of 3 hours per week. However, that's dependent on whether the library is open during the prisoner's time to use the service, and certain prisoners have priority, such as those who have docketed cases.

VideoConferencing. The Department of Public Safety is planning to establish 4-10 videoconferencing sites across the state so that local families may stay in touch with family members at mainland prisons. The department is actively looking for sites and has been talking to a number of churches.

Changes to SB932 or Act 8. Both the department and the legislature want to revisit SB932 to make some improvements. The department has not hired any new staff to fill the positions authorized by Act 8, nor has the governor released the appropriated funds.

Top Legislative Issues for 2008. The department listed: 1)Re-integration of programs; 2)Enhanced law enforcement; and 3)Repair and maintenance of facilities.

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