Here’s an article I wrote that was just published in KOHA Magazine – Aotearoa (New Zealand)

Published: March 1, 2011Posted in: Feature, Issue 8Tags:
Caveat Emptor (Let the Buyer Beware)
A Cautionary Tale from Hawaii By Kat Brady

Introduction: There is a beautiful archipelago in the North Pacific where waves kiss the shore and palm trees sway … while overhead the prison privateers circle like buzzards. Anti-prison campaigner, Kat Brady, discusses the inherent contradictions of the trafficking of native Hawaiian prisoners to mainland U.S.A.

It was 1995 and Hawai`i was sweating because the federal government was threatening to take over their shamefully overcrowded prison system. In desperation, the Legislature approved the transfer of some prisoners to a non-state facility as a ‘temporary fix’ to overcrowding. The first human trafficking took place during the Christmas holiday of 1995 when three hundred men were whisked out of Hawai`i in the middle of the night to a private prison in Texas.

This trafficking of humans by Hawai`i to private corporations on the U.S. continent has increased almost sevenfold since the first contract was executed. Today Hawai`i has exiled almost 2,000 men to Saguaro and Red Rock, two private prisons owned and operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) in Eloy, Arizona.

The data on private prisons, primarily medium custody facilities, show that they have 49% more assaults on staff and 65% more inmate-on-inmate assaults than public prisons. They have been found to have higher levels of escapes, disturbances, and drug use. At several of the private prisons housing Hawai`i individuals (the majority of whom are classified as community and minimum custody), drug counsellors and other staff were fired for selling crystal methamphetamine and for sexual assault.

Private prison staff have 35% fewer training hours than public prison staff and they have a turnover rate in excess of 52% while public prisons have a 16% turnover rate. Not surprisingly, they have higher levels of operational problems and a comparative lack of inmate programs, such as educational, vocational and counselling programs, which lead to inmate idleness and a lack of preparation for re-entry.

Hawai`i can attest to the lack of programming, since we contracted for many courses that either never started or were never completed. The inferior medical care and the lack of professionalism of the administration and staff at most private prisons that have housed Hawai`i individuals has been shocking. Rehabilitation is not a priority for these corporations: profit is. In fact, the warden of Saguaro prison has been reported as saying, “My job is to make money for the corporation.”

And these corporations have spent millions lobbying to defeat bills that call for transparency and accountability. CCA alone has spent millions of dollars over the years lobbying both federal and state governments to increase their market share.

Only after entering the private prison web, will governments discover how difficult it is to extract themselves when the ‘free market’ has seemingly unlimited funds to spend on lobbying to expand its interests.

Let Hawai`i’s ‘temporary fix’ to our overcrowding problem be instructive. Our ‘temporary fix’ is now a full blown addiction that may have inadvertently enhanced the growth of gang activity in prison, returned more hardened individuals to our communities, and increased youth gang activity on our streets.

Don’t hand over your core government functions to the corporate sector. Even if the government contracts out their responsibility, liability for constitutional violations in private prisons cannot be waived through contracting.

Instead, enact smart Justice policies that will directly address the problem at hand and fund culturally competent community-based programs to prevent crime, restorative justice programs to heal from the impacts of crime, and a comprehensive re-entry system to address the needs of those working towards successful re-entry after being convicted of a crime.

Caveat emptor, Aotearoa!

Kat Brady is the Coordinator of the grassroots initiative, Community Alliance on Prisons that has been promoting smart justice policies for Hawai`i for more than a decade. She can be reached at

Kat Brady, Coordinator


76 North King Street, #203

Honolulu, Hawai`i 96817

Phone: (o) 808-533-3454

(c) 808-927-1214

Watch Hawai`i InJustice on `Olelo Channel 54

The 1st & 3rd Tuesday of each month at 8:30 pm

and Every Thursday morning at 8:00 am

Advocacy for Justice Award to CAP

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