East Hawaii News

Warden Selected for Kulani Correctional Facility

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A supervisor at Hawaii Community Correctional Center has been named warden of the Kulani Correctional Facility scheduled for reopening in mid-2014.

The appointment of Ruth Coller Forbes was announced this morning by Ted Sakai, head of the state Department of Public Safety. It was effective as of Sunday.

Forbes has been with the department since 1995, when she started as a corrections officer at the Women’s Community Correctional Center on Oahu.

From 1998 to 2000, she served as a human services professional at the Hawaii Intake Service Center in Hilo. She then transferred to HCCC where she served as a human services professional before being promoted in January 2006 to corrections supervisor.

“Ruth has a broad knowledge of corrections and management. She is a valuable asset to the department and is committed to carrying out our mission,” Sakai said in a statement. “I am confident Kulani will benefit from her leadership and years of experience.”

The so-called “prison without walls” is a minimum-security facility covering 280 acres at the 6,000-foot elevation on the slopes of Mauna Loa.

The dormitories at Kulani Correctional Facility are shown in this view from the prison's watch tower (click to enlarge). Photo courtesy of DPS.

The dormitories at Kulani Correctional Facility are shown in this view from the prison’s watch tower (click to enlarge). Photo courtesy of DPS.

It was closed in 2009 by then-Gov. Linda Lingle as a cost-cutting measure. At the time it housed 160 inmates.

Forbes will be instrumental in the reopening of Kulani which is scheduled for July 2014, the department said.

“Ruth will be jumping right in to her role as warden,” said Max Otani, deputy director for Corrections. “The priority in the next six months, as we prepare for the official re-opening of Kulani, will be to hire all the staff, establish and test operational policies and procedures, and organize the purchase of equipment and supplies.”

Kulani is currently undergoing upgrades to its electrical system. New kitchen equipment and other repairs are also planned.

Forbes’ duties as a supervisor have included inmate programming and classification at HCCC, where she was described as a key member of a team that implemented innovative programs such as E Hoopili Hou (Supporting Keiki of Incarcerated Parents), Job Readiness and Mentoring.

She is also an active member of the Going Home Consortium, a group of public and private agencies that develop and implement programs in the community for offenders on the Big Island.

Forbes has a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the College of St. Benedict, Minnesota, and a master’s degree in Criminal Justice Administration from Chaminade University.

Kulani will have a full-time staff of 96 to oversee 200 low-risk inmates.

Most of the inmates are expected to come from Hawaii facilities which will open up beds for prisoners currently incarcerated in mainland facilities.

It is costing the state about $40 million annually to house roughly 1,400 Hawaii inmates at Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, AZ, prisons spokeswoman Toni Schwartz said.

Prison officials say bringing back 200 of those inmates will save the state about $5 million per year. The governor has said he would prefer that money go into Hawaii’s economy instead of being spent on the mainland.

Inmates from the state prison system chosen for Kulani would be those within two to four years of release. They would be considered minimum security or “community custody” inmates, the same category for those currently being held at Hale Nani, HCCC’s reintegration facility in the Panaewa area of Hilo.

The state is also preparing to finalize a proposal for a program to utilize land surrounding Kulani for agricultural purposes to provide educational and rehabilitation opportunities for inmates.


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