Gov. Neil Abercrombie joined Public Safety Department Director Ted Sakai and folks from East Hawaii to mark the grand re-opening of Kulani Correctional Facility in Hilo yesterday.

The facility closed in 2009, according to Public Safety, “resulting in the displacement of nearly 100 staff and the transfer of almost 200 Hawaii inmates to other overcrowded state facilities.”

Kulani’s 200 low-risk inmates will return in phases, with the first group of 25 to be brought to the facility this month. The rest will return in increments over the next five months.

Vocational training and substance abuse treatment programs will be added, says the department. PSD is also working with area kupuna to develop programs based on traditional Hawaiian values.

Outside Kulani prison July 2014

Kulani Prison near Hilo, July 1, 2014.

Department of Public Safety

Kulani’s reactivation is “a major accomplishment” of the Abercrombie administration, boasts PSD, and is “consistent with Hawaii’s participation in the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, launched last year.”

JRI is a data-driven plan to “reduce spending on corrections, reinvest savings generated in strategies that would reverse crime trends and eventually bring inmates housed in Arizona back to Hawaii.”

For reopening, $686,400 was allocated for construction and renovation of the 280-acre facility.

Some have opposed Kulani’s reactivation, including Ohana Hoopakele, which unsuccessfully sought a preliminary injunction to halt the reopening.

The group wants an opinion on whether DPS violated a 2012 Hawaii environmental law that states Kulani is to be the preferred site for a puuhonua, or place of refuge, as an alternative to prison.  

About the Author