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Retrofitted shipping containers to house Hawaiʻi inmates requiring medical isolation

Oahu Community Correctional Center
Department of Public Safety

Department of Public Safety officials grappling with inmate overcrowding amid the coronavirus pandemic are trying something new — retrofitted shipping containers.

According to the latest population reports from the Department of Public Safety, the state has 440 more inmates in its custody than its facilities were designed to hold.

Deputy Director for Corrections Tommy Johnson says the agency is retrofitting shipping containers with locks, water and sewer hook-ups to be used by inmates requiring medical isolation.

He says the first container will go into operation at the Maui Community Correctional Center. That will be followed by three containers at the Oʻahu Community Correctional Center and another on Kauaʻi.

"So we’re clear, these would be medical and medical would order the person into isolation," Johnson said. "That was the original purpose. For inmates who tested positive, medical could order them into isolation."

"Because of the infrastructure limitations, depending on the number of people who test positive or are in quarantine, we can’t always separate them to a degree that we should," Johnson told Hawaiʻi Public Radio.

More than 2,800 Hawaiʻi inmates have contracted the coronavirus behind bars since the pandemic began. Nearly 400 staff have also been infected.

"This is for the health and safety of the inmates who test positive and those who need to be in quarantine so that we can protect the other inmates and staff from being infected," he said.

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at khiraishi@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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