ACLU Files Complaint About Overcrowded Hawaii Jails

HONOLULU — The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Hawaii filed a complaint to the U.S. Justice Department earlier this month to requesting for an investigation into the state’s overcrowded jails. The complaint stated that severe overcrowding and underfunding in seven of the state’s nine jails is causing health and safety risks.

THE ACLU conducted a yearlong study that found Hawaii jail populations to be nearly twice their original design capacity, according to Hawaii News Now. The report also cited several complaints from inmates in regard to unsanitary or unhealthy conditions at the jail such as poor plumbing, faulty toilets and backed-up shower drains as well as cockroach-infested food carts..

Jails that were mentioned in the report include the Oahu Community Correctional Center (OCCC). As of Nov. 30, the facility had 1,109 inmates even though it was designed to house 628. Similarly, the Maui Community Correctional Center (MCCC) houses about 425 inmates in a facility designed for 209, and the Kauai Community Correctional Center has 207 inmates housed in a 110-bed facility.

Opponents to the claim point out that prisons and jails have expanded over the years to accommodate larger jail populations, reported Hawaii News Now. The Department of Public Safety’s website, for instance, states that the OCCC has a current operational capacity of 954 inmates, and the MCCC can operate with a capacity of 301.

One way the state could address the overcrowding issue is by building a new jail. A plan for a newer, larger OCCC is already in the works. The state even identified 11 potential sites for the replacement facility on Oahu, reported Hawaii News Now.

If the state doesn’t do enough to address the problem, the Justice Department can sue the state. Even if the federal government doesn’t do anything, the ACLU can file a lawsuit on its own. This happened back in 1984 when the ACLU sued due to overcrowding conditions at OCCC and the state’s Women’s Community Correctional Center. This action led to a consent decree, which forced the state to reduce overcrowding and took 14 years for the state to get the consent decree lifted, according to Hawaii News Now.