Correctional center designed for 127 has 174 inmates

LIHUE — At Kauai Community Correctional Center, it is common for corrections officers to hear choruses of gospel music being sung from the cells.

It’s also not unusual to see inmates in woodshop, carving pieces for Kauai elementary school students to build a mini Hokulea, or see them in the field, tending to a one-acre garden.

Daily, KCC Warden Neal Wagatsuma sits with inmates who are part of the LifeTime Stand program to talk about their lives and where they think they’re headed.

For Thomas Lindsey, a corrections officer for KCCC, giving inmates opportunities to better themselves is one of the jail’s main responsibilities.

“Every single one of these guys will go back into the community. We have a window of two years to help them become good citizens,” he said. “They will eventually be our neighbors and their kids will play sports with our kids and go to school with our kids, so it’s about helping them become contributing members of society.”

Fostering an environment of respect and trust is key, he added.

“I try to make it a habit to know everyone’s name,” he said. “It makes it more honorable and personable than saying ‘hey you’ or ‘inmate.’”

When Lindsey took TGI on a tour of the jail’s facilities, he greeted inmates by name.

“I call them by their first name and they call me ‘brother.’ Sometimes, I’m ‘uncle,’” he said.

There are 174 inmates at KCCC — 138 men and 36 women. They are housed in three buildings, each with its own level of security.

Inmates are either waiting for court proceedings or are serving a two-year sentence. Sometimes, a person will be transported back to KCCC when they have two years left on their sentence, Lindsey said.

KCCC is designated as a medium, minimum and community custody facility, which is the lower end of the security spectrum.

When a person is taken to KCCC, they are considered to be a medium-security inmate, and after they are arraigned, they are lowered to minimum and community security.

But if they stay at the medium-security level, they be taken to Oahu, Lindsey said.

A new inmate is housed in Module B, which was added in the 1980s. If an inmate proves they can behave themselves, they are moved to less-secure areas.

Module B has six rooms, each of which has three to four bunks. The rooms are lined up on either side of the wall, with a couple of chairs and tables in the center. There are 31 people in Module B.

A visitation room separates Module B from Module A, a less secure area.

Module A, which houses 42 people, has three rooms, each containing nine bunks. Women live on one side of the building and men are on the other.

On Monday, a Bible study program led by an inmate was being held on both sides of Module A. The men were singing “Blessed be Thy Name,” accompanied by an ukulele.

Those who participate in the program say it helps re-direct their lives. The program is is optional, and people interested in it are interviewed by inmates in the program to decide if they are a right fit.

Module C, which houses 58 men and 19 women, gives inmates the most freedom.

Those modules, akin to cabins, are situated on either side of the jail, separated by gender. Inmates who live in that module can order out for toiletries like toothpaste and shampoo. They are expected to keep their space clean.

“If there’s an organized space, it helps people have an organized mind,” Lindsay said.

The modules house inmates who participate in LTS program. The program, devised by Wagatsuma, uses para-military style training and offers opportunities in education, employment, community service and counseling.

In December, a jury unanimously decided Wagatsuma not liable of sexual humiliation and discrimination, after a social worker filed a lawsuit saying Wagatsuma forced female inmates to watch rape videos and to divulge their sexual pasts while being filmed.

There are 101 inmates who participate in LTS, which is a voluntary program, said Toni Schwartz, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety.

“It focuses on becoming productive members of society and making better choices,” Lindsey said. “We take it down to the bare bones and slowly build it up to where they’re consistently making good choices.”

KCCC inmates also work in the garden, growing fruits and vegetables like kale, green onion, taro, breadfruit, eggplant, and bananas.

“Whatever they grow, they eat,” said Schwartz said.

Other programs include substance abuse, anger management, crisis and grief counseling, life coaching and job preparation.

When KCCC was built in 1977, it was intended to house 16 inmates. Over the years, the jail has been expanded, including renovating an outside courtyard and bringing in trailers, but overcrowding remains an issue.

The operational capacity is 127. So, at the moment, the jail is overcrowded by 47 people.

But at the end of the day, KCCC cannot turn away someone ordered to go there, Lindsey said.

“If a judge orders them to serve time, we make room,” he said.

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