Prison plan includes new facilities in Kona, Hilo

An ambitious plan released late last week includes a new prison for West Hawaii and a new East Hawaii correctional complex that would combine the Hawaii Community Correctional Center, Kulani Correctional Facility, Hale Nani and associated facilities.

The Department of Public Safety on Nov. 14 released a request for information, the first step in what could be a long overhaul process for prisons and correctional centers statewide.

The department hopes to use the responses to plan a way to expand and modernize its facilities as well as bring home 1,400 Hawaii inmates currently imprisoned in Arizona. There haven’t been significant expansions of the system since 1987.

“It’s really, really, really early in the process,” said Public Safety spokeswoman Toni Schwartz. “We’re just at the information-seeking stage, where we are asking the public to give us ideas on everything from how to build these to how to fund them.”

People and companies with proposals should send three copies by Dec. 16 to Rosalina Aipopo, Public Safety Department Executive Assistant, 919 Ala Moana Blvd., Room 401, Honolulu, HI. 96814. More information can be obtained by emailing Aipopo at

According to the plan, a 250-bed facility would be built in West Hawaii on state lands controlled by the Department of Transportation, or another site. Schwartz couldn’t identify the site Thursday. The facility would accommodate current and projected detention and reentry needs of inmates from West Hawaii, including West Hawaii inmates housed at the federal detention center and the Saguaro Correctional Center in Arizona.

Hilo’s multiple facilities would be moved under one roof to a new 500-bed prison that would include inmates from the minimum security Kulani prison and the Hali Nani reintegration program, as well as from East Hawaii inmates from the Hawaii Community Correctional Center, the federal detention center and the Saguaro Correctional Center. The West Hawaii inmates would be moved to the West Hawaii site.

“It’s a long trip to transport inmates from Hilo to go to court in West Hawaii,” Schwartz said. “It takes a lot of time.”

The Kulani prison is expected to reopen for inmates next summer. Former Gov. Linda Lingle closed it in 2009 to save money.

Schwartz said the state plans to use state employees to operate the facilities, regardless of who builds them.

“I don’t believe we’d do a public-private partnership for operations,” she said.

The state could, however, let a private company construct the facilities, while the state leases them with the intent of purchasing them over time. The first choice, though, would be to go to the Legislature for funding, she said.

Sen. Will Espero, chairman of the Senate Public Safety Committee, estimated the combined cost of the new facilities could add up to more than $1 billion.

“We don’t have the money for such a large endeavor in the near term,” Espero said. “It’s going to take a couple administrations to do this.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.