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State moves closer to reopening Hawaii island prison

By Gregg K. Kakesako

LAST UPDATED: 11:56 a.m. HST, Jul 9, 2013

The state has issued a finding of "no significant environmental impact" for reopening Kulani Correctional Facility, which was closed four years ago because of costs.

The 200-page assessment prepared by R.M. Towell Corp. said there will be the long-term positive impacts in reopening correctional facility closed by former Gov. Linda Lingle because of budgetary problems for returning inmates, job creation or reinstatement for staff and continued use of a fully functional state-owned facility.

The report said reopening Kulani is not expected to adversely impact natural or cultural resources.

The report’s summary said the Department of Public Safety proposes to reopen developed portions of the approximately 280-acre Kulani Correctional Facility to accommodate about 200 minimum-security inmates. 

Public safety officials would like to reopen the Big Island facility next year.

The state said inmates assigned to Kulani will be transferred from in-state facilities, allowing for the return to Hawaii of inmates currently serving sentences in Mainland correctional facilities. Hawaii inmates are imprisoned in Arizona at two facilities: Saguaro and Red Rock Correctional Center.

Only nominal repairs will be needed to accommodate the 200 inmates, the study said, based on 2012 architectural, engineering and environmental analyses. of No major facility upgrades will be needed.

Cost was estimated at $600,000.

Kulani is located on the slopes of Mauna Kea, about 20 miles southwest of Hilo and is accessed through the Stainback Highway.

The prison in 2009 was turned over to the state Department of Defense for use as an at-risk youth program campus.

High per-prisoner operating costs were cited in closing Kulani, but Ted Sakai, Public Safety director, has said reopening the facility makes sense for several reasons.

"It's a step to bringing inmates home from the mainland without contributing to the overcrowding (in Hawaii prisons)," Sakai said. "It's the right thing to do."

About 30 percent of Hawaii inmates are now incarcerated in mainland prisons.

The prison in 2009 was turned over to the state Department of Defense for use as a National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Academy that offers high school degrees.

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