The history of Hawai‘i’s Euro-American criminal justice system can be traced back to the first constitution of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i promulgated on October 8, 1840, by Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III) at the advice of foreign political advisors. (ASM)
The Preamble of the Kingdom of Hawai`i Constitution of 1840 (the Declaration of Rights, Both of the People and Chiefs) stated, “Protection For The People Declared.”
“‘God hath made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on the earth,’ in unity and blessedness. God has also bestowed certain rights alike on all men and all chiefs, and all people of all lands.”
“These are some of the rights which He has given alike to every man and every chief of correct deportment; life, limb, liberty, freedom from oppression; the earnings of his hands and the productions of his mind, not however to those who act in violation of the laws.”
“God has also established government, and rule for the purpose of peace; but in making laws for the nation it is by no means proper to enact laws for the protection of the rulers only, without also providing protection for their subjects;”
“neither is it proper to enact laws to enrich the chiefs only, without regard to enriching their subjects also, and hereafter there shall by no means be any laws enacted which are at variance with what is above expressed, neither shall any tax be assessed, nor any service or labor required of any man, in a manner which is at variance with the above sentiments.”
“The above sentiments are hereby published for the purpose of protecting alike, both the people and the chiefs of all these islands, while they maintain a correct deportment; that no chief may be able to oppress any subject, but that chiefs and people may enjoy the same protection, under one and the same law.”
“Protection is hereby secured to the persons of all the people, together with their lands, their building lots, and all their property, while they conform to the laws of the kingdom, and nothing whatever shall be taken from any individual except by express provision of the laws.”
“Whatever chief shall act perseveringly in violation of this constitution, shall no longer remain a chief of the Hawaiian Islands, and the same shall be true of the Governors, officers, and all land agents.” (Preamble of the First Constitution of Hawaii, October 8, 1840)
The First Act of Kamehameha III, An Act to Organize the Executive Ministry, signed by the King on October 29, 1845, established the position of Minister of the Interior and made him responsible “for the faithful and lawful execution of the duties comprised in the first part of”.
The Second Act of Kamehameha III, An Act to Organize the Executive Departments of the Hawaiian Islands, signed on April 27, 1846. Among the duties assigned to the Minister of the Interior were those in Chapter III “Of Internal Improvements,” Article IV “Of Prisons and Houses of Correction” to manage the prisons of the Kingdom.
In Part V, Chapter I “Of the Executive Judicial Officers,” of the same act, the post of Marshal of the Kingdom was established. The Marshal was made responsible for the safekeeping of all prisoners. (HSA)
In the mid-1850s, Honolulu had approximately 10,000-residents. Foreigners made up about 6% of that (excluding visiting sailors.) Laws at the time allowed naturalization of foreigners to become subjects of the King (by about that time, about 440 foreigners exercised that right.)
The majority of houses were made of grass (hale pili,) there were about 875 of them; there were also 345 adobe houses, 49 stone houses, 49 wooden houses and 29 combination (adobe below, wood above.)
The city was regularly laid out with major streets typically crossing at right angles – they were dirt (Fort Street had to wait until 1881 for pavement, the first to be paved.)
Sidewalks were constructed, usually of wood (as early as 1838;) by 1857, the first sidewalk made of brick was laid down on Merchant Street.
At the time, “Broadway” was the main street (we now call it King Street;) it was the widest and longest – about 2-3 miles long from the river (Nuʻuanu River on the west) out to the “plains” (to Mānoa.) What is now known as Queen Street was actually the water’s edge.
To get around people walked, or rode horses or used personal carts/buggies. It wasn’t until 1868, that horse-drawn carts became the first public transit service in the Hawaiian Islands.
Honolulu Harbor was bustling at that time. Over the prior twenty years, the Pacific whaling fleet nearly quadrupled in size and in the record year of 1846; 736-whaling ships arrived in Hawai‘i.
At the time, Honolulu Harbor was not as it is today and many of the visiting ships would anchor two to three miles off-shore – cargo and people were ferried to the land.
To accommodate the growing commerce, from 1856 to 1860, the work of filling in the fringe reef to create an area known as the “Esplanade” (where Aloha Tower is now situated) and building up a water-front and dredging the harbor was underway.
The legislature adopted a resolution directing the minister of the interior to remove Fort Kekuanohu (Fort Honolulu – then serving as a prison) and use the material obtained thereby “in the construction of prisons, and the filling up of the reef.” (Kuykendall)
Fort Street is named after this fort; it is one of the oldest streets in Honolulu. Today, the site of the old fort is the open space called Walker Park, a small park at the corner of Queen and Fort streets (also fronting Ala Moana/Nimitz.)
However, the prison could not be removed until a new prison was built; construction for the new prison began in 1855, but not entirely completed until more than two years later. The Fort was then removed in 1857. (Kuykendall)
Prisoners from Molokai (“nearly every man in the village”) who were implicated in a cattle-stealing program; they were tried and sentenced to jail. These, along with other prisoners, cut the coral blocks and constructed the prison. (Cooke)
On the opposite side (ʻEwa) of Nuʻuanu stream was a fishpond, identified as “Kawa” or the “King’s fish pond.” Iwilei at that time was a small, narrow peninsula, less populated than the Honolulu-side of Nuʻuanu stream.
The new prison was on a marshy no-man’s land almost completely cut off from the main island by two immense fishponds. The causeway road (initially called “Prison Road,” later “Iwilei Street”) split Kawa Pond into Kawa and Kūwili fishponds.
Sometimes called the “Oʻahu Prison,” “King’s Prison,” “Kawa Prison” or, simply, “The Reef,” it was a coral block fortress built upon coral fill at the end of a coral built road over the coral reefs and mudflats of Iwilei.
“As one enters the heavy front gates one stands in a long, but narrow, inclosure that forms the front yard of the prison proper. Here a few of the prisoners are sometimes allowed to take their exercise.”
“The only difference in the cells occupied by the women is that they have a mattress on the floor instead of a hammock to sleep on. They wear blue denim dresses, while the men wear a combination of brown and blue.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, March 15, 1894)
In 1886, Mark Twain visited the prison and wrote: “… we presently arrived at a massive coral edifice which I took for a fortress at first, but found out directly that it was the government prison.”
“A soldier at the great gate admitted us without further authority than my countenance, and I supposed he thought he was paying me a handsome compliment when he did so; and so did I until I reflected that the place was a penitentiary”. (Twain)
“When I was at Honolulu, I had occasion to visit the reef. That is, the island prison of Oahu, where all classes of offenders, murderers, felons, and misdemeanants are confined at hard labor.”
“While I was there my attention was drawn to thirty-seven Galicians, subjects of Austria, who were confined because they had refused to fulfil their contracts to labor for the Oʻahu plantation. They were dressed in stripes like the other prisoners.”
“They were made to do the same labor in the quarries and on the roads. They were conveyed about the islands in a public vehicle, accompanied by armed guards.” (Dr Levy; Atkinson, 1899)
The overall responsibility for prisons remained with the Minister of the Interior until 1890, when it was transferred by Act 3 to the Attorney General, along with authority over the Marshal. (The Marshall was later renamed High Sheriff.)
Meanwhile, an intervening supervisory level, the Board of Prison Inspectors, also under the Minister of the Interior, had been created in 1888 to “supervise the discipline and government” of the prisons.
In 1914 under the Territory of Hawai‘i, a 9.8-acre site in Kalihi-Kai was identified as the new location for Oahu Prison. Construction for the new prison was underway the following year, and by 1918, the prison was completed and renamed the Territorial Penitentiary.
The Territorial Penitentiary served as the main detainment center for convicted felons, misdemeanants, and inmates awaiting trial. By the mid-1970s, the former Territorial Penitentiary came under the control of the City and County of Honolulu and subsequently renamed to the present Oahu Community Correctional Center (OCCC).
By the late 1970s, most of the buildings constructed for the Territorial Penitentiary were demolished. The redesign was dramatically different from the previous penitentiary as it replaced the large single structure with multiple wings design, to one with multiple interdependent structures.
Since its establishment, OCCC has expanded to the current 16-acres and is the largest jail facility in Hawai‘i with a capacity of 628 beds and an operational capacity of 954 beds, however OCCC consistently operates above these capacities.
The existing main OCCC jail building opened in 1980 and was fully occupied by 1982. From 1978 to 1987, OCCC served as both local jail and State prison. In 1987, the Halawa Correctional Facility was completed, after which OCCC assumed its current primary function as a detention facility.