Kulani closer to reopening


HILO — Lawmakers have agreed on funding for the Kulani Correctional Facility, paving the way for the mothballed prison outside Hilo to reopen next year.

Toni Schwartz, state Department of Public Safety spokeswoman, said Kulani will be ready to accept inmates in July 2014, assuming that funding stays in the final budget.

But with leaders from both the state House and Senate agreeing late Wednesday to reopen the minimum-security facility, that is not expected to be a problem.

“Really it’s like 99 percent done,” said Sen. David Ige, D-Oahu, who chairs the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

The budget will likely be approved next week, he said.

The proposal calls for $2.4 million in 2014 for reactivation and operations, and about $5 million in 2015.

Reopening Kulani, located 20 miles southwest of Hilo, is expected to cost about $600,000, with the help of inmate labor.

Sen. Gil Kahele and Rep. Richard Onishi both celebrated the move, which will help the state to relocate its inmates in mainland prisons back to Hawaii facilities.

“We keep the funds back here, the savings at home,” said Kahele, D-Hilo.

Onishi said the facility will provide an economic boost to the Big Island, with its approximately 90 jobs.

“Just having Kulani there is an economic driver,” said Onishi, D-Hilo, Keaau, Kurtistown, Volcano.

Kulani, which housed about 200 inmates, closed in 2009 as part of emergency budget cutbacks.

The facility has been used as part of a “decompression system” where inmates stay before being sent to community facilities like Hale Nani near their release date.

That is expected to continue, meaning that many of its inmates would already have been housed in-state.

But its reopening will still allow the state to relocate inmates from mainland prisons since it opens up more space, Schwartz said.

“We definitely needed to find room here in the state and that is one of the fastest, most immediate options,” she said.

Schwartz said the state has about 1,500 inmates on the mainland at a cost of about $5 million a year. They make up about 30 percent of Hawaii’s inmate population.

Public Safety, which oversees Hawaii’s correctional facilities, has set a goal of housing all inmates in Hawaii by 2018, she said.

When reopened, Schwartz said Public Safety plans to to place more emphasis on agriculture programs and connecting Native Hawaiian inmates with their culture, an approach refered to as puuhonua.

The facility is now used by the Hawaii National Guard’s Youth ChalleNGe Academy.

Onishi said there is a $5.9 million budget request to build a new facility for the academy at the Keaukaha Military Reservation.