ACLU Files Complaint Over Conditions in Hawaiʻi Jails and Prisons

January 12, 2017, 7:31 AM HST · Updated January 12, 3:54 PM
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Maui Community Correctional Center. Photo by Wendy Osher.

The ACLU of Hawai‘i Foundation has filed a complaint with the US Department of Justice requesting a Federal investigation into what they are calling “unconstitutional conditions” and “overcrowding” in its jails and prisons in Hawai‘i.

The ACLU complaint alleges that Hawai‘i prisons and jails do not meet minimum standards and violate the 8th and 14th Amendments to the US Constitution which prohibit “cruel and unusual punishment.”

The complaint details civil rights violations due to allegations of persistent and severe overcrowding and underfunding in seven out of the nine jails and prisons run by the State of Hawaiʻi.

ACLU representatives say erosions range from severe under-staffing of medical and mental health services resulting in routine denial of basic services and emergencies; unsafe food safety practices; holding 3-4 people in a cell designed for two; pervasive lack of hygiene items which fosters unsanitary conditions; and, an aging and ill-maintained infrastructure that poses acute health risks.

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ACLU Legal Director Mateo Caballero said, “Hawaiʻi policymakers have long been warned that without a long-term plan to manage the growth of incarceration, the state could revert to conditions that led to class-action lawsuits and federal oversight.

It is critical that Hawai‘i adopt evidence-based reforms to reduce the number of people behind bars. There are ways to make meaningful change that do not sacrifice public safety.”

According to the ACLU, there are over a thousand pretrial detainees in Hawaiʻi who sit in jail for months awaiting trial. These detainees account for over 50% of people at the Oʻahu Community Corrections Center and almost 20% of all inmates.

The ACLU supports the wider adoption of noncash bail reforms, which identify for release individuals that pose little risk of danger or flight but are in jail because they cannot afford bail.

In Hawai‘i, the state is planning to replace OCCC and doubling its original capacity at an estimated cost of up to $650M, according to the ACLU.

Caballero said, “The Constitution requires that conditions of confinement in Hawai‘i must meet basic standards of legality and human decency – to correct these violations, the state must take immediate action. Going forward, the ACLU is hopeful that discussions about a new OCCC spark lawmakers and the broader community to commit to a more modern vision for our prisons and jails – one that reduces Hawaii’s over-reliance on costly and unsustainable incarceration. The ACLU will re-double its advocacy because there is still time to re-direct public dollars toward more effective public safety policies.”

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