Kulani may revert to prison

Kat Brady
Kat Brady
Michael Hoffman
Michael Hoffman

By Ben Gutierrez - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A state senate committee has approved a resolution that would reopen a correctional facility at Kulani on the Big Island of Hawaii.

The Kulani Correctional Facility was closed in 2009 and turned over to the Hawaii National Guard's Youth Challenge Program. But the Public Safety Department under the Abercrombie administration wants to bring Hawaii inmates home from mainland prisons. And Kulani may be used to house some of those returning prisoners.

The administration of Gov. Linda Lingle closed the prison in order to save money, but the new administration of Gov. Neil Abercrombie had said earlier it was looking at reopening Kulani as a correctional facility. The legislature is considering the option.

"There's been a lot of talk before the  session actually started, about, you know, 'What are we doing? Why would we close one of the most successful facilities we have?" said Kat Brady of the Community Alliance on Prisons.

The facility had housed some 176 inmates, some of whom were in a sex offender treatment program.

The state currently houses some 1,900 inmates in Arizona at a cost of $61 million a year. Gov. Abercrombie has said he wants to bring Hawaii inmates back from the mainland, and Kulani factors into the equation.

"Kulani Correctional Facility would provide the Public Safety Department the ability to return upwards of 200 inmates from Arizona," Michael Hoffman, administrator of the department's Institutions Division, told the state senate's Public Safety and Government Operations Committee.

The committee approved resolutions that would take back Kulani from the Hawaii National Guard, and would also build a new prison facility at Panaewa, near Hilo.

The state Defense Department, which includes the Youth Challenge Program, released a statement, saying it "is not testifying for or against any measures, but we are testifying about how worthy the Youth Challenge Program is and the value it has to the community.

"If Kulani is turned back into a prison ... we don't want the program to be affected and 'skip a beat.' The best case scenario is we would close the YCP at Kulani and walk into a 'turn-key' alternate site with no waiting," the statement concluded.

There's currently no timetable for returning Kulani to the prisons system, but the idea did not draw any opposition at the senate committee hearing.

"The legislature is really big on opening Kulani, the governor wants to reopen Kulani, the community wants to reopen Kulani, so I'm ecstatic," Brady said.

The resolution to take Kulani back goes to the full senate for a vote. Other proposals requesting the Public Safety Department to bring inmates home from the mainland and to build a new prison on the Big Island are headed to the senate Ways and Means Committee.

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