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Prison Predicament

Inmates should not be exported like commodities.

July 30, 2009
Sophie Cocke · Staff Writer

Otter Creek is a minimum to medium security, private prison operated by the Corrections Corporation of America, to which the State of Hawai‘i pays $50 million annually to house 2,000 inmates in its Mainland facilities.

The circumstances highlight the added emotional anguish inflicted on inmates and their families by Hawai‘i’s policy of exporting to the Mainland inmates that they lack room for within the islands’ prison system.

“It’s hard to sleep sometimes because I do not know what is going on,” said Dias Taula, a mother of one of the alleged victims, to a Honolulu Star-Bulletin reporter at a recent protest at the State Capitol. “Yes, my daughter has to pay for being in prison. However, taking them out of the state and so far away is inhumane, because they’re cutting the hearts of us mothers; we cannot see or touch our children.”

Article Photos

Sophie Cocke · Staff Writer

Hawai‘i now houses one-third of its prison population in Mainland facilities, which saves the state money. Mandatory sentencing guidelines have led to a significant increase in Hawai‘i’s prison population, yet the state announced last week it is closing the Kulani Correctional Facility on the Island of Hawai‘i, which will exacerbate the space shortage.

For most families in Hawai‘i who have a loved one incarcerated on the Mainland, their ability to visit is rare or nonexistent. While visitation “rights” amount to little more than privileges open to the discretion of individual facilities, the importance of contact between those incarcerated and their families is considered vital to reducing recidivism rates and assisting in the successful transitioning of inmates back into society.

While Gov. Linda Lingle said in 2006 that she was backing away from plans to build two new prisons, saying “she didn’t think there is community support for it,” this is not a sound ethical argument for transporting inmates thousands of miles away from their families. For women inmates with children, the added grief and injustice is compounded.

Otter Creek is one of a spate of new private, for-profit prisons built in the central Appalachian region, which have been the focus of numerous human rights investigations. As one of the poorest rural regions in the country, the prisons have been welcomed by local officials desperate to create jobs. The majority of inmates are from outside of the region.

Activists Julia Taylor and Nick Szuberla host a radio call-in show in the region for family members and friends to send messages to prisoners. Hawai‘i residents who would like to send a message to an inmate incarcerated at Otter Creek are encouraged to call (888) 396-1208 on Mondays between 2 and 4 p.m. (HST). The program airs at 4 p.m. every Monday. For more information, visit



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