HILO (HawaiiNewsNow) - Governor Neil Abercrombie announced in his State of the State speech that he wants to re-open the Kulani Correctional Facility on the Big Island by July 1, 2014. Residents had a chance to offer their opinions on Tuesday night at a public meeting in Hilo.
The Lingle administration closed Kulani in 2009 after officials determined it wasn't fiscally feasible to keep running the facility. Abercrombie, however, is determined to change that next year. Roughly 30% of Hawaii's 6,000 inmates are held in mainland prisons. 200 of them could come back if the minimum security facility is re-opened.
"What happened in the past was the prisoners went up there, but now we have a chance to bring them home," said resident Louie Hao.
They would be prisoners who are two to four years from finishing their sentences. The move would also create more than 90 staff positions.
"This includes correctional officers, professional staff, clerical staff, food service, etcetera. We'll begin hiring those staff probably about a year from now," explained public safety director Ted Sakai.
"We will restore needed jobs on the Big Island and return more than $5 million a year to Hawaii currently spent on Arizona correctional facilities," said Abercrombie.
Kulani would partner with the University of Hawaii at Hilo to work with the inmates. Operating the prison cost the state $5.3 million annually in 2009. Replacing equipment and upgrading utilities would require an additional $600,000, according to a draft environmental assessment.
A community group called Ohana Ho'opakele believes Kulani should be a wellness center or pu'uhonua instead. Members want the focus to be on Native Hawaiians only since they're overrepresented in the prison population.
"Prison does not work. Prison is for punishment. Pu'uhonua is to rehabilitate," said member Samuel Kaleleiki Jr.
The facility is currently being used by the Hawaii National Guard's Youth ChalleNGe Academy.
A second public meeting will be held on January 31 at 5 p.m. at the Keaau Community Center.