Waiakea Prison Camp, Hawai'i (detention facility)

US Gov Name Waiakea Prison Camp
Facility Type U.S. Army Internment Camp
Location Hawai'i island ( lat, lng)
Date Opened September 1938
Date Closed 1946
Population Description
General Description Held people of Japanese ancestry, citizens and non-citizens, and local criminals
Peak Population

One of three incarceration sites on Hawai'i Island including Hilo Dokuritsu Nippon Go Gakkō (Hilo Independent Japanese Language School) and Kīlauea Military Camp that authorities used to house Japanese inmates before transferring them to O'ahu and other mainland incarceration sites.

Although its exact location is unknown, Waiakea Prison Camp was the first major prison camp established on Hawai'i Island under the jurisdiction of O'ahu Prison. [1] As early as September 1938, there were thirty-six prisoners housed at Waiakea. According to one report, prior to the war, prisoners constructed both the facility and its road and built and maintained Waiakea Airport near the old Hilo Terminal. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, the inmates who included incarcerated Japanese participated in several government projects and built and expanded roads covering seven districts becoming "proficient at using welding tools, cement mixing, bulldozers, cranes, carryalls, rooters, trucks, jackhammers, picks, shovels, and dynamite." [2] Waiakea's inmates, along with other prisoners across the territory, worked on "various projects essential to national defense" such as cultivating "victory gardens," cutting firewood, unloading freight from vessels, donating blood, and even purchasing war bonds beginning in December 1941. [3]

At least six Japanese from the island of Hawai'i were reportedly held at the Waiakea Prison Camp that the army commander of Hawai'i district described as "the most convenient and practical institution for confinement at hard labor on Hawaii. The county jail is a rest house [in comparison]." [4] These Japanese inmates shared the camp with rapists and burglars, and according to the camp's prison report, a sentence of one month at hard labor was given for the use of profane and obscene language, three months for being a "disorderly person," six months for being a "common nuisance," and one year for "possession of excessive amount of currency" and the unlawful possession of a Japanese flag. [5]

It is unknown how long these Japanese inmates remained incarcerated, but eventually prisoners were moved from Waiakea Prison Camp to the newly constructed Kulani Prison Camp in 1946. Some may have even been sent earlier to Kīlauea Military Center, joining the majority of Japanese inmates at the largest incarceration center on the island of Hawai'i.

Authored by Kelli Y. Nakamura , University of Hawai'i


  1. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Honouliuli Gulch and Associated Sites: Draft Special Resource Study and Environmental Assessment, May 2014 (Washington D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, 2014), 72.
  2. Keoni May, Prison Labor in the Hawaiian Islands from 1938-1964 (n.p.: 1978), 17-18; Howard T. Ellis, The Observatory, On Their Own (n.p.: 1989), 2-3.
  3. Hawaii Department of Institutions, Department of Institutions, Territory of Hawaii, 1942 [Honolulu: 1942], 11; Hawaii, Governor, Report of the Governor of the Territory of Hawaii to the Secretary of the Interior (Washington: G.P.O, 1942), 23.
  4. Gary Y. Okihiro, Cane Fires: The Anti-Japanese Movement in Hawaii, 1865-1945 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991), 248.
  5. Okihiro, Cane Fires , 248.

Last updated March 22, 2016, 9:51 p.m..