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State officials are moving forward with new Oahu jail

HONOLULU (AP) — Officials in Hawaii plan to move forward with construction of a new jail on Oahu to deal with continuous inmate overcrowding.

Previous efforts dating to 1964 have not gone this far toward developing a new site for the Oahu Community Correctional Center, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Sunday.

The facility would be built on state land in Halawa. The site currently houses Hawaii’s Animal Quarantine Station, which would move to a smaller part of the property.

A report is expected later this month detailing the proposed cost, size, funding options and number of misdemeanor detainees and other inmates who could be held at the facility.

A 2017 environmental impact statement projected the cost at $65 million.

Democratic Gov. David Ige called the project “a very expensive undertaking,” but said that record low interest rates and an amenable bond market provide an opportunity to construct the replacement jail.

The state Legislature is not expected to be asked for funds or to approve construction bills related to the project in the 2021 session.

The first Oahu Prison was built in 1857 and replaced in 1916 by the Oahu Community Correctional Center at its current site in Kalihi. More structures were added beginning in the 1950s. Calls to address overcrowding with a new jail have increased through the decades.

The design, construction and funding could serve as a template for future jail projects on Kauai, Maui and Hawaii island, Ige said.

“It’s not a modern facility. It doesn’t have the kind of space we need,” Ige said. “We’re under federal scrutiny all of the time because of the overcrowding.”

The COVID-19 pandemic triggered increased urgency to take action on the jail, which has experienced virus outbreaks among prisoners and staff.