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Group files suit over Kulani study


Tribune-Herald staff writer

Ohana Ho‘opakele, a group seeking to promote rehabilitation programs based on Hawaiian cultural practices, is challenging the state’s environmental assessment for the re-opening of the Kulani Correctional Facility.

In a lawsuit filed Friday in Hilo Circuit Court, the group says that the state failed to consider the site as a pu‘uhonua, or wellness center, which it asserts is a violation of Act 117.

The act, signed in June 2012, directs the state Department of Public Safety, in coordination with Ohana Ho‘opakele, to prepare a plan for a pu‘uhonua on state land. It refers to Kulani as an ideal location because of its existing infrastructure and because the area is a place of “deep spirituality for the Hawaiian people.”

The state issued a finding of no significant impact in the EA, completed in July.

Without addressing Kulani as a location for a culturally-based rehabilitation center, the group believes the report is inadequate.

That exclusion “continues and exacerbates the harms to Native Hawaiians as described in the report of the Hawaii Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights,” the lawsuit says.

The group is seeking temporary and permanent injunctive relief.

DPS, which oversees the state’s prisons, didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

In July, DPS Director Ted Sakai said Hawaiian cultural programs will be incorporated at Kulani.

In reference to a pu‘uhonua, which the group says on its website involves individual healing and the “traditional ho‘opono‘pono process of making right,” he said then that his department will work with community groups to establish one outside of the facility.

The state plans to reopen Kulani in July 2014.

The minimal security prison was closed in 2009 to help balance the state budget.

Re-opening the prison will help Hawaii reduce the number of prisoners sent to mainland correctional facilities, officials have said.

Mainland prisons house about 30 percent of the state’s inmates.

Kulani will house about 200 inmates, the state estimates.

The Legislature has approved $2.4 million for 2014 for reactivation and operation costs. Another $5 million will come in 2015.

Repairs and upgrades are expected to cost about $600,000.

Kulani is located about 20 miles outside Hilo.

It needs 91 employees to operate, Sakai has said.

Ohana Ho‘opakele’s website lists 1,559 people in support of establishing pu‘uhonuas as an alternative to prisons.

Email Tom Callis at


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