Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

“Unethical At Best”: Hawaii Budget Director Charged With Financing New Prison is Former CoreCivic Lobbyist

it would prefer not to run a new Hawaiian lockup, private prison giant CoreCivic is pushing instead to build and lease it—and the firm has a high-placed ally in state Budget and Finance Director Luis Salaveria: Until the end of 2022 he was a registered CoreCivic lobbyist.

In a meeting with the state Senate Ways and Means Committee on September 15, 2023, Salaveria outlined three proposals to finance a $900 million replacement for the aging Oahu Community Correctional Center (OCCC). Two of those plans involve a “P3” public-private partnership, which CoreCivic has been pushing.

For his lobbying efforts, CoreCivic paid Salaveria $43,100 from 2019 to 2022. He denied consulting with the firm about OCCC financing alternatives—though after years on the other side of the table, he no doubt already knows what CoreCivic wants, as Common Cause Hawaii program manager Camron Hurt pointed out.

“[W]hen citizens say there is a corruption issue, and they say there is a transparency issue, and they say they do not trust the state government, you need not look any further than what you have right here,” he said.

Salaveria said his lobbying efforts focused on the state’s $33.6 million annual contract to hold 872 prisoners at CoreCivic’s Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona. As PLN has reported, that arrangement proved fatal for Hawaiian prisoner Bronson Nunuha, 26, who was murdered there in 2010 by fellow prisoner Miti Maugaotega, Jr. [See: PLN, Mar. 2012, p.28.]

Another CoreCivic lobbyist in Hawaii, John Sabas, admitted that the firm has made it “real clear” to state lawmakers “that we’re willing and able to help design, build, even finance the new OCCC when they’re ready to do it.” He added that CoreCivic would rather not operate the lockup, preferring to finance and build it with a P3 agreement.

State Ethics Commission executive director Robert Harris said state law, Hawaii Revised Statutes 84-18, prohibits state employees from working on a contract and then immediately going to work for the firm negotiating across the table. However, there is no law against doing the opposite, as Salaveria did—though “from an appearance perspective it can look suspect,” Harris added.

Salaveria insisted he had no financial interest in CoreCivic nor his former lobbying firm, SanHi Government Strategies. But Hurt called the budget director’s relationship with the firm “unethical, at best,” especially since using a P3 with CoreCivic to build the jail could end up costing the state much more than financing it with bonds, which are typically issued to pay for public facilities.

State senators who heard Salaveria’s proposals called them “innovative” and said they were “excited” after the briefing. State Department of Public Safety director Tommy Johnson told the Hawaii Correctional Systems Oversight Commission on September 21, 2023, that Gov. Josh Green (D) will have to choose one of Salaveria’s options to send state lawmakers.   


Source: Honolulu Civil Beat

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login