East Hawaii News

Public Hearings Scheduled on Kulani Prison Reopening

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Two public hearings will be held on the Big Island later this month on the proposed reopening of the Kulani Correctional Facility.

The hearings to be held by the state Department of Public Safety are scheduled for 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 22, at the Aupuni Center in Hilo and for 5 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 31, at the Keaau Community Center.

At the hearings state officials will discuss a draft environmental assessment prepared for the action and will take questions and comments.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie wants to reopen the facility to house roughly 200 of the 1,700 Hawaii inmates currently being held in prisons on the mainland. The prisoners incarcerated on the mainland represent about 30% of Hawaii’s 6,000 prison inmates, the draft environmental assessment said.


The effort is part of the ongoing “Justice Reinvestment Initiative,” a national initiative embraced by Abercrombie to boost public safety and law enforcement efforts.

The former prison's craft building, gym and auto shop are shown. DPS photo.

The former prison’s craft building, gym and auto shop are shown. DPS photo.

The governor is looking to reduce the cost of maintaining Hawaii prisoners in private facilities and use the savings to reduce crime trends such as recidivism, or inmates returning to prison after being released.

According to the draft EA prepared by Pacific Architects, Inc. and the R.M. Towill Corp., reopening Kulani would have other benefits such as providing jobs – Kulani is anticipated to have a staff of 96 and a $5.3 million annual budget – and inmate work projects in the community.


Kulani is located at about the 6,000-foot elevation in Puna, at the end of Stainback Highway. The minimum-security facility was closed in 2009 by then-Gov. Linda Lingle in a cost-cutting measure.

When it was closed, the 280-acre facility housed 160 inmates, primarily sexual offenders.

The move would also reinstate efforts to protect the rainforest in the Kulani area through inmate work done with the US Geological Survey and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the document said.

Kulani's administration building. DPS photo.

Kulani’s administration building. DPS photo.


The inmates to be housed at Kulani would be those who are within two to four years of parole or release.

According to an assessment done last year, only minor repairs to Kulani’s 45-acre campus are needed to reopen the facility, much of which could be done with inmate labor. About $600,000 will be needed to replace necessary equipment and carry out upgrades to utility services, the EA said.

Reopening the prison will likely require approval from the state Board of Land and Natural Resources, a state conservation district use permit and county building permit.

The state is looking to reopen Kulani by 2014.

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