Wailua County Jail, Kaua'i (detention facility)

US Gov Name Wailua County Jail
Facility Type
Location ( lat, lng)
Date Opened
Date Closed
Population Description
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Peak Population

Prison facility that became the main detention center for Japanese internees on the island of Kaua'i in the early months of World War II. Detainees held there were eventually moved to Sand Island on O'ahu, and later, most were sent to mainland detention camps.

Jail Background

The Wailuā County Jail was built in 1936 during the end of the Depression construction on Kaua'i that included the Wailuā Golf Club House, the Kīlauea Plantation Gym, the Waimea Community Hall, Wilcox Hospital, the Ham Young Stores, Kawakami's, and many small shops. It replaced a sixty year old jail in Līhu'e. Honolulu architect Fred Fujioka designed the white two story concrete building with a small one-story barracks, and Honolulu contractor W.S. Ching built it for $27,500. When it was completed in April 2, 1936, it was considered "simple and modern," and included a kitchen, refrigerated storeroom and pantry, and steel cells with barred windows. The cells often remained unlocked, and the jailer and sheriff put in a taro patch, garden, and volleyball and baseball facilities for the inmates. Local residents often referred to it as the "Montgomery Hotel, Sheriff Rice's Hotel, the Wailua Hilton, the Haunted Jail and sometimes, the Alamo" due to the jail's square tower as it faced Wailuā Golf Course. According to one account, the only "prison-like ambiance" in the jail's history occurred during World War II when authorities built a fence and imprisoned residents of Japanese ancestry on Kaua'i. [1]

Arrival of Internees

According to a military report, within a matter of days after the Pearl Harbor attack, FBI officials gathered Japanese suspects and brought them to Wailuā County Jail, some of whom were transferred from the Waimea Jail. However, at Wailuā the head jailor was unprepared for the arrival of the men and "not knowing how dangerous these men might be, kept them very closely confined" causing "over-crowding and discomfort" particularly for the elderly who had been receiving medical care. [2] According to an account by Japanese language school teacher Kaetsu Furuya, who had taught in Kōloa, Kaua'i before his detention, "The prison had iron bars and the bed was an iron slab (teppan)." [3] A prisoner later described an 8 x 10 x 12 foot cell with two solid concrete walls, one solid steel wall, and "the entire front of steel and bars." [4] The only lighting source came from a large exposed bulb in the corridor that was the light source for the entire cell block and showers were located in the bathroom at the end of the hall. [5] Authorities gave the inmates two blankets—one that they used as makeshift bedding on the metal surface and the other as covering that was insufficient to protect the men from the December cold. [6] As the jail lacked toilets, the men used a one-gallon can and as language school teacher Jukichi Inouye recalled, "there was no place to hide. We continued like that for three days" before inmates were transferred to more humane accommodations. [7]

Compounding the unpleasantness of the jail was the surrounding environment. The prison was located next to a swamp behind the jail that was a breeding ground for "Texas sized" cockroaches, ants, flies, and mice. [8] Furuya reported "we all got swollen faced from mosquito bites" as inmates were bitten day and night. Janet Chieko Uehara recalled that her father, Kameo Takara often complained about the " nankin mushi " [bedbugs] that were "eating them up." [9] Curtis Wong, who was later imprisoned in the camp in 1974 noted "Kauai's jail provides the optimum physiological conditions for all the rodentia, insectia, and other pestia to carry on their 'swinging parties' and orgies" as the lack of screens in the jail resulted in mosquitoes "feast[ing] on the prisoners" throughout the day and evening. [10]

According to Furuya, the day he was imprisoned authorities brought people from the west and east Kaua'i to Wailuā Jail and in the morning when they saw each other they said, "Don't ask me how it is! ('Iya dōka to iu na!')." Furuya was among the first eighteen to twenty people whom authorities had initially arrested. In all, he reported over thirty people housed at the jail, twenty-seven of whom would be eventually sent to the mainland. In the morning, the prisoners were given a cracker for breakfast that was so hard "it wouldn't break even if you bit it, and coffee. That's all," as they waited in their cells with the other prisoners. [11]

Improvement in Conditions

When inspection visits by both military and civilian groups revealed substandard conditions at the prison, authorities engaged in an unprecedented partnership with civilian personnel to improve the conditions of the jail. Officials opened up the iron gates and doors so the men would move freely upstairs and go into the yard and encouraged inmates to engage in activities to bide their time and improve their accommodations. As in the mainland incarceration centers, inmates began building beds and furniture out of lumber while others started knitting and other activities such as lauhala weaving, carving, reading, gardening, and playing games. Authorities sent individuals to the inmates' residences to obtain clothing, toilet articles, and "other equipment that they desired to make their life more comfortable." [12] Later, officials permitted relatives to visit on Sunday and Thursdays from 1 to 3 p.m., under military supervision and these visits not only helped to increase morale "it has also assisted materially as laundry could be taken out and in." As a result of these changes the men began to "brighten up" and took "a keen interest" in the activities at the prison including improving two blackout rooms for nighttime. [13]

Eventually, the Kaua'i County Engineers built a new two-story dormitory with forty-eight bunks to separate the detainees from the regular prisoners. The new facility included a kitchen, an outdoor toilet, and bathhouse with hot water along with the new living and sleeping quarters for the detainees. According to a report, "It contained two dormitories sleeping twenty-four men each in twelve double decker beds, a twenty foot square living room, with tables, desks, shelves and benches and a small dispensary." Along with "modern toilets" the windows were blacked out and the inmates who had been evenly divided in the jail on the upper and lower floors kept their respective groupings as their leaders tossed a coin for the dormitories.

The inmates also helped to run the prison and some became "dormitory leaders, clean up leaders, water luna [supervisor], garden superintendent, carpenter supervisor, tool guardian, director of 'K.P.s.', English teacher." Although officials had hired a kitchen staff, the inmates began to organize a kitchen staff of their own and rotated groups to set dishes, prepare vegetables, and wash dishes, with each prisoner being fed at a cost of 40 cents per day. Inmates on Kaua'i seem to have played a more active role in running the camp than other sites in Hawai'i and enjoyed activities provided by outside community organizations. [14]

On February 24, 1942, forty-five of the inmates left the Wailuā County Jail under police guard for Nāwiliwili Harbor to be taken to Honolulu leaving twenty-four detainees at the Wailuā County Jail. The jail was used to house civilian inmates at least until June 6, 1942, until they were moved to Sand Island or other incarceration centers or released.

Despite efforts to save parts of the jail for historic and commercial purposes, it was demolished in 1978 to make way for the new State Kauai Community Correctional Center/Kauai Intake Service Center. [15]

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


  1. Julia Neal, "Wailua Hilton," Garden Island , July 30, 1975, A-7.
  2. Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i Resource Center, AR 19, Box 10, Folder 12, "An American Experiment, re: detention of detainees on Kauai, n.d., source covered up"; Garden Island , July 15, 1974, A-2.
  3. "Mr. Kaetsu Furuya TR-2," Japanese Internment and Relocation: The Hawaii Experience, University of Hawai'i, Hamilton Library, Special Collections, Item 233, 1. Hereafter, items in this collection will be referred to as JIRHE.
  4. Curtis Wong, "Seeing the Wailua Jail From the inside-out," Garden Island , July 15, 1974, A-2.
  5. Curtis Wong, "Sharing life with mice, flies, roaches—and many mosquitoes," Garden Island , July 22, 1974, A-5.
  6. "Mr. Kaetsu Furuya TR-2," JIRHE Item 233, 1."
  7. "Mr. Jukichi Inouye TR-5," JIRHE Item 236, 4.
  8. Curtis Wong, "Sharing life."
  9. "Janet Chieko Uehara," oral history, Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i Resource Center. 4.
  10. Curtis Wong, "Mosquitoes feast on the prisoners," Garden Island , Aug. 5 1974, 3.
  11. "Mr. Kaetsu Furuya TR-2," JIRHE Item 233, 1-2.
  12. "An American Experiment."
  13. "An American Experiment."
  14. "An American Experiment."
  15. "Wailua Jail Now History," Garden Island , January 9, 1978, 1.

Last updated July 7, 2015, 11:45 p.m..