Hawaii


Hawaii Correctional System Oversight 

Commission (HCSOC, The Commission)

Budget

$334,516 (FY 2022-23)

Staffing

3 staff members.

  • As of March 2023, staff includes the Oversight Coordinator and Special Assistant to the Coordinator. The Commission is in the process of onboarding an individual for the Diversion and Reentry Oversight Specialist position.

State Prison Profile

Hawaii has 4 state prisons and 4 state-operated jails subject to Commission oversight, as well as a contracted prison facility in Arizona, incarcerating a total of approximately 4,200 people. The state correctional system is run by the Department of Public Safety’s Corrections Division (HIDPS) and is a unified system, covering both prisons and jails. In 2024, the Department of Public Safety is branching off into two departments: The Department of Law Enforcement and the Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation. 

Authority

Hawaii Revised Statutes Chapter 353L

  • Structure: The Commission is administratively attached to the Office of the Attorney General, but it is an independent agency. The oversight commission consists of five members, with one member appointed by each of the following: the Governor, President of the Senate, Speaker of the House, Chief Justice, and Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. The Governor appoints an Oversight Coordinator from a list provided by the Commission. (353L-1)
  • Authorized Activities: The Commission is tasked with investigating complaints at correctional facilities, establishing maximum inmate population limits for each facility, and working with the HIDPS in monitoring and reviewing reentry programming. The Commission is broadly tasked with facilitating the transition from a punitive to rehabilitative model of corrections. (353L-3)
  • Facility and Information Access: By statute, HIDPS shall provide full access to all information requested by the Oversight Coordinator and Commission. (353L-5) The Oversight Coordinator may enter without notice to inspect the premises of an agency or correctional facility. (353L-7)

Activities

As of March 2023, the Commission had only 2 of its 3 authorized staff members. Once fully staffed, the Commission will investigate complaints; work with courts and HIDPS to set facility population limits; monitor HIDPS programming; work with multiple state departments to support reentry; and research systemic issues and best practices. Currently, the Commission makes monthly visits to each correctional facility after their public meetings. Due to especially poor conditions at one particular jail, the Oversight Coordinator has been visiting biweekly and submitting reports regarding conditions.

Reports

Monthly Reports; Annual Reports; Special Issue Reports. Publicly available here.

Organizational History

In 2016, the Hawaii State Legislature established a Task Force to study and make recommendations on the state’s correctional system. The Task Force made a study trip to Norway and also examined the increasing number of U.S. states with independent oversight bodies. In 2019, the Task Force issued a report recommending that the Legislature create an independent correctional oversight commission; that same year, the Legislature passed a bill to establish the Commission. However, in 2020 and 2021, the Governor did not release funding that would have allowed the Commission to hire staff. In October 2021, the Commission was cleared to hire a full-time Oversight Coordinator and in 2022 it began the process of hiring additional staff.

Special Note

Approximately one quarter of people incarcerated by the Hawaii correctional system are housed in a privately-run facility in Arizona, the Saguaro Correctional Center. The practice of moving people in custody to mainland facilities began in 1995 as a measure to reduce overcrowding. Conducting effective oversight for people being held on the mainland is particularly challenging.