Waiale Road is not exactly a thoroughfare. Approaching from the Waiko Road end, there's a strip of new asphalt built as part of Jesse Spencer's Waikapu development. Despite the fact that there are only two streets feeding into the road, there's a ridiculous 20-mph speed limit.
Slide by two competing drug stores, one on each side, and the road takes on more of the character created when Waiale was a cane haul road. There are remnants of plantation-era houses on one side and a complex of one-story buildings behind fences topped with razor wire - the Maui Community Correctional Center.
The state wants to replace the overcrowded facility with a prison out near Puunene, an idea that goes back to 1961. The site has been roundly opposed. In 1965, 8,000 Mauians signed a petition against the location. It would kill development of Kihei, they claimed. Various business organizations were all in favor of a state prison on Maui. It would create jobs, they declared. Maui was still climbing out of the economic depression that followed World War II.
Opposition to a prison on Maui is nothing new. You have to go back to the 1800s to find a popular place to incarcerate bad guys. That would be the Lahaina prison known as Hale Pa'ahao. It was built in 1852 to corral unruly seamen.
There's also no mention in The Maui News of opposition to the Wailuku Jail built around the turn of the 20th century. In 1903, it was hailed by prisoners as being "luxurious," an unlikely description since a year later, conditions were called deplorable with prison labor being misused. It was a different time, one that had judges sometimes sentencing miscreants to "hard labor."
By 1931, the Wailuku Jail was declared overcrowded. It was located in Paukukalo at a National Guard Camp. The decision was made to move it 1940. The new location was picked despite opposition from residents in the area, roughly where the Maui Community Correctional Center is located today. The jail was finished by the county in 1941 at a cost of $11,000.
The Wailuku Jail wasn't the only prison facility on the island. In 1926, the Olinda Honor Camp had its beginnings up near the top of Olinda Road. In the beginning, conditions were far from ideal. Seven inmates escaped. When they were recaptured, they demanded to be sent to Oahu Prison. They apparently thought the territorial facility would be a better place to spend their time.
Conditions were improved. Prisoners could work in the carpentry shop, and gangs were sent out to work on roads in West Maui and out Kanaio way. The facility was popular with ranchers and farmers plagued by gorse. Prisoners routinely worked to clear fields. The most common method of eradicating the prickly plant from Scotland was to cut it and then douse the stump with diesel fuel. Later, the state would plant hundreds of pines, figuring the trees would cut the sunlight needed by the hardy gorse.
In 1948, the territorial governor urged closing the camp, saying gorse was under control. A new prison was suggested. Pauwela was considered as a site in 1966. There was little, if any, support for the plan. The Olinda camp was closed in 1973. It later became a different kind of prison, but one with a conjugal component. This one was for breeding endangered birds.
Mayor Elmer F. Cravalho closed the Wailuku Jail in 1972 as being unfit for habitation. The state took over prison duties on the island in 1973.
Today, the Maui Community Correctional facility, originally designed to provide rehabilitation for prisoners, is run by the Department of Public Safety. The guys keeping the inmates in line are called correction officers. It's a tough job. M Triple C is overcrowded, and too many of the inmates suffer from mental or emotional problems.
The top man is Warden James Hirano. He seems affable and when a request was made to take a look inside, he said, "We try to be transparent." But . . .
The request had to be cleared by his boss in Honolulu. Ahh, bureaucracies are all the same. The idea was to have a talk with Hirano and take a peek at the facility.
In due time, the public relations person for the Department of Public Safety sent an email saying she would lobby the deputy attorney general for permission to take a visit. That was on April 23.
From the outside, the razor wire sparkles in the sun. Apparently, only workers and inmates know if there is any sunshine inside Maui Community Correctional Center.
* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.