HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) — Eloy, Arizona is in the middle of the desert — about an hour from Phoenix.
It’s a sharp contrast to Hawaii. But there are currently 1,000 Hawaiian inmates housed at the Saguaro Correctional Center, a facility the state pays millions to each year to reduce overcrowding in state facilities.
Hawaii News Now has been the only television news crew to have access since it was built in 2007 to reduce the islands’ overcrowding.
SCC is privately run, operated by CoreCivic, and only prisoners with longer sentences are sent there.
While there are 1,000 Hawaii inmates there now, that number may vary.
In previous years there were up to 1,500.
And unlike most establishments on the islands, SCC is not overcrowded.
Watch Lynn Kawano’s Inside Saguaro series, which is airing and online this week.
There, HNN found an empty living pod that can hold up to 120 prisoners. The living areas are clean, even those full of people. Mural paintings also adorn the walls of the capsules.
According to correctional facility experts, SCC is well designed.
The arrangement facilitates the transportation of prisoners from the residential units to recreation yards and program centers set up in the center of the complex.
There are also a number of professional training programs at SCC that are not offered in Hawaii.
“I think it’s the best place compared to any other place I’ve been to,” said Marwan Jackson, a Hilo inmate serving a sentence on manslaughter.
Jackson said there’s also more freedom and structure compared to the prisons he’s been in on the Big Island and Oahu.
Christin Johnson, coordinator of the State Correctional System Oversight Commission. said it was more conducive to rehabilitation.
“A lot of people actually prefer to be there because the conditions here are so terrible.”
Jails on Oahu, Maui and Hilo are exceeding capacity, forcing some to sleep on the floor. Staff shortages and equipment failures have fueled inmate riots that have cost Hawaiian taxpayers millions in repairs.
Lawsuits also come at a high cost.
And if conditions don’t improve, federal oversight could follow, leading to millions more being spent on improvements.
Johnson said money isn’t the only reason the public should beware.
“The vast majority of these people come back,” she said. “I would rather have someone who has received therapy, who has received programming, who has received training.”
Another consideration: the price. The cost of housing prisoners in Arizona is much cheaper for taxpayers.
Currently, the state pays $247 per inmate per day at a facility in Hawaii. At SCC, that cost is nearly $110 per day.
This is the amount to cover medical treatment, services and administrative costs.
While Saguaro saves the state money and provides a better lifestyle for those behind bars, the prisoners are 3,000 miles from home and their loved ones.
“This is difficult, this is very difficult,” Jackson said. “I have four children that I father over the phone.”
SCC allows prisoners to make video calls in addition to phone calls, all at a cost to the inmate.
Jackson said it would be ideal if a facility like SCC could be built in Hawaii. But for now, the state is only discussing a new prison intended for pre-trial and short-term prisoners.
That means the state will send inmates to Saguaro Correctional Center for many years to come.
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