Thursday, May 21, 2009


Capital punishment and extraordinary rendition in Hawaii

by Larry Geller

Hawaii does not have capital punishment—officially. Instead, we have a program of “rendition.” Our administration contracts with a private prison operator in Arizona, where no state law protects them (since no Arizona citizens are incarcerated at Saguaro Prison, Arizona state prison laws don’t apply, nor does Hawaii law). The prison is operated by Corrections Corporation of America.

Since August 2008, three Hawaii prisoners have died in Saguaro.

Whatever their offense, they were not supposed to die.

Something is very wrong, but these deaths have not yet received the public attention they need to have.

There could be an investigation, but it’s up to Senate President Colleen Hanabusa and House Speaker Calvin Say whether this will happen (yes, later I’m going to ask if you could email or call them about this).

Here is some information on the three recent deaths.

A May 10, 2006 article in In These Times highlighted the glaring failures in Hawaii’s system of out-of-state incarceration. The article reported that:

A 1993 study focused on the recidivism rates of Hawaiian prisoners found that 90 percent of inmates sent to other states to do their time eventually returned to prison. Those incarcerated in their home state had recidivism rates ranging from 47 to 57 percent.

It also noted:

Hawaii represents the most extreme example of these practices because all of its transferred prisoners are sent to the mainland, and because all of those prisoners are sent to facilities run by just one private prison operator: Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).

Today, Hawaii leads the nation in interstate prisoner transfers. Nearly 2,000 prisoners—roughly half of the state’s adults convicted of felonies—are serving out their sentences in CCA-run prisons in Arizona, Kentucky, Mississippi and Oklahoma. Notably, 41 percent of the “shipped” prisoners have been native Hawaiian, although they represent only 20 percent of the state’s prison demographic.

This and other articles achieved widespread interest because of the death of transferred Hawaii inmate, 43-year-old Sarah Ah Mau, on New Year’s Eve 2005.

Mau, serving a life sentence for second-degree murder, had been incarcerated since 1993 and had a shot at parole eligibility in August 2008.

She never got that chance. Instead she died of as-yet-unexplained “natural causes” after two days in critical condition—and a month after first complaining of severe gastrointestinal distress. Family members and fellow prisoners say that Ah Mau’s pleas for medical care were ridiculed, downplayed or ignored by prison employees. As her stomach distended—and other body parts began to swell visibly—prisoners say that Ah Mau was fed castor oil and told to stop complaining unless she wanted to face disciplinary action.

What was Hawaiian resident Ah Mau doing in Kentucky in the first place? She was a commodity in an increasingly common practice: interstate prison transfers.

Returning to the Saguaro incidents, the state’s contract also came under scrutiny in a 2007 story by Advertiser reporter Kevin Dayton:

An Arizona mayor who signed off on part of a multi-million dollar government contract to house Hawai'i inmates in prisons on the Mainland also is an employee of Corrections Corp. of America, the company that holds Hawai'i inmates at the privately owned Arizona prisons.

Allegations of mismanagement by CCA surfaced almost immediately. From an August 2007 AP story::

Two managers at a private Arizona prison that houses inmates from Hawaii quit the facility with complaints of poor management, inadequate facilities and lack of staffing.

Two days after the managers abruptly left their jobs, staff members at the Saguaro Correctional Facility in Eloy inadvertently opened security doors Aug. 3, releasing seven inmates from their cells. One inmate was injured in a fight and another had to be subdued for refusing to return to his cell.

The employees who quit the prison, addiction treatment manager Michael VanSlyke and principal Rich Stokes, explained their departures in e-mails to Shari Kimoto, Hawaii Department of Public Safety mainland branch administrator.

In the e-mails, Stokes said upper management at the facility spies on staff, controls all communication with the outside and degrades inmates.

Water runs into cells when inmates take showers because the drains are higher than the surrounding floors, and the air conditioning system frequently fails, he said.

Staff members are often locked in or out of their units because doors can't be opened because there aren't enough correctional officers, Stokes said, adding that many of the officers who are there are overworked and undertrained.

VanSlyke's e-mail said Saguaro doesn't have adequate facilities to treat inmates and will never qualify for inpatient licensing as required by Hawaii's contract with CCA.

These situations cry out for an audit of the Saguaro facility.

Call to Action—Your help is needed

HCR199, passed by the legislature, requests that an audit be done on the Saguaro Prison in Arizona. Each year there are more audits requested than the state auditor can accommodate, and so she consults with the two legislative leaders to choose which ones to go with.

Please take a moment to email or call and ask that the audit take place. Here is the appeal from Kat Brady, Coodinator of the Community Alliance on Prisons:

Mahalo nui to all who have contacted Senate President Hanabusa ( and Speaker of the House Calvin Say ( to urge them to have the Saguaro audit done. If you haven’t e-mailed them yet, please do so. They are prioritizing audits for the Legislative Auditor to do, so we want to make sure that Saguaro is front and center!

Sen. Hanabusa’s phone number is 586-7793 and Rep. Say’s phone number is 586-6100, if you prefer to call.

You can make this audit happen, please email or call right away.

Update: See comment to this article and link to the website National Public Service Council To Abolish Private Prisons.


The NPSCTAPP philosophy has always been “justice” should not be for sale at any price. It is our belief that the inherent and most fundamental responsibility of the criminal justice system should not be shirked, or “jobbed-out.” This is not the same as privatizing the post office or some trash pick up service in the community. There has to be a loss of meaning and purpose when an inmate looks at a guard’s uniform and instead of seeing an emblem that reads State Department of Corrections or Federal Bureau of Prisons, he sees one that says: “Atlas Prison Corporation.”

Let’s assume that the real danger of privatization is not some innate inhumanity on the part of its practitioners but rather the added financial incentives that reward inhumanity. The same logic that motivates companies to operate prisons more efficiently also encourages them to cut corners at the expense of workers, prisoners and the public. Every penny they do not spend on food, medical care or training for guards is a dime they can pocket. What happens when the pennies pocketed are not enough for the shareholders? Who will bailout the private prison industry when they hold the government and the American people hostage with the threat of financial failure…“bankruptcy?” What was unimaginable a month ago merits serious consideration today. State and Federal prison programs originate from government design, and therefore, need to be maintained by the government. It’s time to restore the principles and the vacated promise of our judicial system.

John F. Kennedy said, “The time to repair the roof is while the sun is shinning”. Well the sun may not be shinning but, it’s not a bad time to begin repair on a dangerous roof that is certain to fall…. because, “Incarcerating people for profit is, in a word WRONG”

There is an urgent need for the good people of this country to emerge from the shadows of cynicism, indifference, apathy and those other dark places that we migrate to when we are overwhelmed by frustration and the loss of hope.
It is our hope that you will support the NPSCTAPP with a show of solidarity by signing our petition. We intend to assemble a collection of one million signatures, which will subsequently be attached to a proposition for consideration. This proposition will be presented to both, the Speaker Of The House Of Representatives (Nancy Pelosi) and the United States Congress.

The SINGLE VOICE PETITION and the effort to abolish private “for profit” prisons is the sole intent of NPSCTAPP. Our project does not contain any additional agendas. We have no solutions or suggestions regarding prison reform. However, we are unyielding in our belief that the answers to the many problems which currently plague this nation’s criminal justice system and its penal system in particular, cannot and will not be found within or assisted by the private “for profit” prison business. The private “for profit” prison business has a stranglehold on our criminal justice system. Its vice-like grip continues to choke the possibility of justice, fairness, and responsibility from both state and federal systems.
These new slave plantations are not the answer!

For more information please visit: or email:
To sign the petition please visit:


The one bit of news that is never published is how the State of Hawaii's OWN Dept of Public Safety CONDONES what CCA does. For DPS to actually stand up and hold CCA accountable for their slum lord practices would certainly show that the ENTIRE mainland tranfer department needs to undergo a total reorganization with certainly the posibility of releases from employment. Shari Kimoto and her staff should be replaced with people that can do the job properly. For every complaint, she and her supposed Saguaro 'auditor', John I, upholds CCA's excuses. Shame on Clayton Frank and Tommy Johnson for allowing this to go on. Maybe they too should be dismissed. An audit is definitely needed and while that is happening, an through audit on DPS should be done as well. We've incarcerated our Ohana because they broke the law, yet we allow CCA and DPS to break the law and not hold them accountable. The time is NOW to correct this, the time is RIGHT!

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