KCA Meeting Panelists Discuss Pros, Cons of New Maui Prison
Proposed prison facility and reintegration programs discussed at Kïhei Community Association meeting. “No matter where they go, they are all coming back to the community.”
Scott Broadbent, Maui Weekly
POSTED: March 25, 2010
Even in the best of economic times, building new prisons can be controversial. Convincing the public that spending $235 million for a new facility on Maui during an unrelenting recession is proving to be a challenge.
At the Tuesday, March 16, meeting of the K?hei Community Association (KCA), seven panelists argued both sides of the issue.
Tommy Johnson, deputy director of the Hawai‘i Department of Public Safety (DPS), argued in support of the new Maui Regional Public Safety Complex which would ultimately replace the aging Maui County Correctional Center (MCCC). The facility, which would be built on a 38.8-acre parcel behind the Maui National Guard Armory off Mokulele Highway, would serve two populations: “pretrial” or jailed inmates and “furloughed” inmates—felons re-entering the Maui community.
Johnson, who attended via conference call due to what he called “budgetary constraints,” said the new facility “would return 300 inmates currently on the Mainland” to Maui and allow them to benefit from reintegration programs. Johnson also said the new facility would result in construction jobs, long-term staff positions, increased tax revenues and expenditures to local vendors.
Retired Maui Police Captain George Fontaine also voiced his support for the proposed facility. “MCCC is severely overcrowded,” he said. “When it was built in the early ’70s, it was out in the middle of cane fields. Now it is surrounded by subdivisions.” He said this has led to problems with drugs being smuggled in, and added that overcrowding means inmates are being released without reintegration programs. “A larger, state-of-the-art facility would allow better services for people,” Fontaine said.
Second Circuit Court Judge Shackley F. Rafetto, founder of the Maui Drug Court program, took a pragmatic view. “No matter where they go, they are all coming back to the community,” he said. While the judge expressed concern over the distance from Pu‘un?n? to the courthouse and a potential problem finding qualified staff, he said he supported the new complex if rehabilitation and reintegration programs “were built into the expanded facility.” Rafetto said that the success of the Drug Court program has proven these programs are effective.
Former inmate Danette Arrojo underscored that point. Arrojo, who said she has spent five years in jail, is now an honor student at University of Hawai‘i (UH) Maui College. “There is a saying that prison is a revolving door,” she said. “That’s true if there are no programs. The main thing that is needed is money to educate inmates about how to change their lives.”
Deputy Prosecutor John Kim discussed how his attitude toward the justice system changed after he was assigned to Drug Court. “When I first started, it was all about punishment,” he said. “We just wanted to throw them in jail. But as I sat through Drug Court, I could see how much they turned around. It was touching to see the change.”
Kim said he supports the expansion, mainly because of the overcrowding at MCCC. But he also said reintegration programs are essential and need to be given time to work. “A lifetime of addiction can’t be changed overnight.”
“Poverty breeds crime,” said Social Worker Netra Halperin. “This is a national problem.” Halperin cited statistics showing that 85 percent of crimes nationally are alcohol- and drug-related. “Only 11 percent are getting treatment,” she said. By offering treatment and rehabilitation programs, Halperin said there would be more intact families and “more public safety for our community.”
Building new correctional facilities “is making us poorer, not safer,” said attorney Carrie Ann Shirota. “We spend $40,000 a year to incarcerate a person and $10,000 to educate a child.” She said there would be dramatic, positive results “if we were to flip that formula.”
Shirota, who is the first Maui resident and only one of two in the state to be awarded a George Soros Justice Advocacy Fellowship, drew applause from several in the audience when she said, “Let’s not waste money on a system that doesn’t work.”
During a spirited question and answer period, the differences among the panelists became even more pronounced.
Halperin and Shirota criticized the current practice of sending inmates to the Mainland and contracting with the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), a private corrections management company based in Nashville, Tennessee.
“CCA shareholders make money by filling prisons,” said Shirota, “and they make money from people returning to prison.” Shirota again drew applause when she advocated directing funding toward reintegration programs. “We need to reinvest in our own community,” she said.
Judge Rafetto defended DPS. “When we wanted a dormitory facility [for the Drug Court program], they agreed,” he said. “DPS has been very helpful and responsive.”
Judge Rafetto also lauded UH Maui College for their efforts. “They have done a tremendous job of outreach,” he said, resulting in an increasing percentage of inmates and former inmates attending college.
“I’ve been on both sides of the fence,” said Arrojo. “It will be hard to train people who have criminal thinking to go from negative to positive. I have come a long way because of reintegration programs.”
Judge Rafetto sounded a positive note. Whether a new facility is built or not, “Dysfunction can be corrected,” he said. “I believe that 99 percent are redeemable.”