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Former Hawaii island prison identified as possible wellness center

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The former Kulani correctional facility has been identified as a possible site for the first culture-based wellness center for incarcerated Native Hawaiians.

The state Senate is reviewing proposals to establish a wellness center, or puuhonua, on the Big Island of Hawaii. Proponents say the center will focus on healing rather than punishment, using proven Native Hawaiian cultural practices in substance-abuse rehabilitation and intervention.

According to the Community Alliance on Prisons, Hawaiians represent a disproportionate majority of the state’s 6,000 inmates, a number that includes 1,800 serving their sentences on the mainland.

Alliance Coordinator Kat Brady urged senators to move forward with wellness center plans. "We need to find alternative means to reintegrate people who have lost their way," she stated in her written testimony.

Samuel Kaleleiki Jr., President of Ohana Hoopakele, also spoke of the need to move away from a strictly punitive prison system. "We believe puuhonua centers are for the good of all Hawaii’s people and can provide real hope in saving money, reducing recidivism, crime prevention and long-term positive change," he said.

Jodie Maesaka-Hirata, director of the Department of Public Safety noted the future of the Kulani facility is still being decided. However, she added that there might be an opportunity to incorporate a Hawaiian culture-based program with the Justice Reinvestment Initiatives, which looks to alternative responses to crime when managing criminal populations.

At a joint committee meeting Tuesday, senators decided to merge two similar bills that would set plans for a pilot program into motion. The Hawaiian Affairs Committee is scheduled to vote on the amended bill Thursday.




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