By NANCY COOK LAUER
About 200 Hawaii inmates will be closer to home for the holidays as early as next year if the proposed reactivation of Kulani prison comes to fruition.
The project moved a step forward Friday with publication of a proposed finding of no significant environmental impact. The publication in the state’s Environmental Notice opens the comment period on the project.
Kulani Correctional Facility, located on 614 acres on the slopes of Mauna Kea about 20 miles southwest of Hilo, was closed in 2009 by former Gov. Linda Lingle because of a budget crisis. In November 2010, the property was put under state Department of Defense control for use as a training camp for at-risk teens, called the Hawaii National Guard’s Youth ChalleNGe Academy-Kulani.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie has made a priority of returning Hawaii’s inmates to the state. In August, he released $250,000 to plan the Kulani reopening.
“From my first day as governor, I said we will bring our inmates housed in mainland facilities back home and keep our taxpayer dollars in the state,” Abercrombie said when introducing the Justice Reinvestment Act, a comprehensive measure addressing inefficiencies in the current system.
State Sen. Josh Green, D-Kona, Kohala, has been a proponent of reactivating Kulani and told Stephens Media at the time that he hopes it could happen.
“People should serve their time, but it’s also good that families can remain intact and visit their family members. That contributes to people getting better,” Green said. “Also, it’s jobs here, and anything we can do these days to keep jobs here is good.”
Currently, about 1,700 inmates, about 30 percent of the 6,000 incarcerated, are located in private mainland facilities.
A minimum security prison housing mainly sex offenders, Kulani began in 1946 as a work camp.
Once reopened, it will employ 96 staff to support the 200 inmates who are two to four years from finishing their sentences. The facility would cost $5.6 million annually to operate, according to a state report. The state anticipates using inmate labor to repair the facility, lowering the renovation costs to $600,000.
The complete 53-page report can be found at hawaii.gov/health/environmental/oeqc/index.html. Comments are being accepted until Feb. 7.
Email Nancy Cook Lauer at firstname.lastname@example.org.