Big Island prison reopens after five years

Big Island prison reopens after five years
The only state-run prison on the Big Island is open again, nearly five years after shutting down. In 2009, then-Governor Linda Lingle closed the Kulani Correctional Facility, saying it would save the state nearly $3 million a year."I believe it was a mistake, not only in terms of the employment, but also in terms of the void in our correctional programming," said Ted Sakai, director of the Department of Public Safety.

Now the minimum-security prison is getting ready to house 200 inmates. They'll be transferred from other Hawaii facilities during the next five months.

"Eventually, over time when this is filled, the prime beneficiaries are going to be Halawa (Correctional Facility) and then we'll be able to reduce the population in Arizona," said Sakai.

The state pays about $72 a day per prisoner housed on the mainland. 1,400 of Hawaii's 5,500 inmates are at the Saguaro Correctional Center in Arizona. Sakai estimates the cost per inmate at Kulani will be $82 a day. Governor Neil Abercrombie said the state is moving as quickly as possible to bring all of the prisoners back to Hawaii.

"A long way to go, but we're well on the path now and this is more than symbolic. This gives three-dimensional reality to bringing everybody back and giving them a chance to reclaim their lives," said Abercrombie.

"We are going to have to build additional capacity in Hawaii, and we're going to have to strengthen some of our programs to get more inmates on parole and keep them out on parole rather than coming back," said Sakai.

Sakai said the prison used to offer a successful sex offender treatment program. Officials are looking into bringing back those services. Inmates will also have vocational training opportunities.

"Our goal is to get all the inmates doing things that will help them on the outside. If they come here and they see that it's not hard at all to do an acre of farm or hydroponics or whatever it is, they can get out and get their life back in order," said facilities superintendent Jerry Crivello.

"I think it gives us an opportunity to perhaps the chance to reclaim their lives that might otherwise be lost," said Abercrombie.

Members of Ohana Hoopakele protested Tuesday's reopening. They said Kulani should be used for Native Hawaiians who are overrepresented in the inmate population. The group favors the development of a puuhonua as an alternative to a standard prison.

"It's more of a sense of healing, so you would maybe treat the person different. He would have more integrity. You would have him produce a product and make money," explained president Palikapu Dedman.

Sakai said the prison is working with kupuna from the community to create programs based on traditional Hawaiian values.

There will be 91 employees at Kulani. Sakai said the operating cost for the facility is $5.9 million annually.

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