East Hawaii News

Judge Refuses Request to Block Kulani Reopening

June 30, 2014, 5:25 PM HST
* Updated July 1, 3:09 PM
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A Circuit Court judge today rejected a request by a nonprofit group to stop tomorrow’s scheduled reopening of Kulani Correctional Facility.

Judge Glenn Hara said the request by Ohana Ho`opakele for a preliminary injunction failed to meet several legal tests, including whether not granting the injunction would result in irreparable harm or would be against the public interest.

Hara said to the contrary, he believes it would be in the public’s best interest if the state brings back Hawaii prisoners currently held on the mainland.

Ted Sakai, director of the state Department of Public Safety, sits next to a deputy attorney general representing the state at today's hearing in Hilo Circuit Court. Photo by Dave Smith.

At left, Ted Sakai, director of the state Department of Public Safety, with a deputy attorney general representing the state at today’s hearing in Hilo Circuit Court. Photo by Dave Smith.

He said that would also be in keeping with the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a program embraced by Gov. Neil Abercrombie and at least 17 other states, which is designed to reduce recidivism.

Hara also rejected an argument by Ohana Ho`opakele attorney Georgette Yaindl that the prison was an inappropriate use for crown lands, property previously held by the Hawaiian monarchy. He said courts have previously held that prisons are a public purpose.

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According to a lawsuit filed by Ohana Ho`opakele in August 2013, the environmental assessment prepared for Kulani’s reopening was flawed because it did not contain provisions for a pu`uhonua – a traditional Hawaiian place of refuge and healing – and that the Department of Public Safety erred when it deemed the reopening would have no significant impacts.

Ohana Ho`opakele attorney Georgette Yaindl. Photo by Dave Smith.

Ohana Ho`opakele attorney Georgette Yaindl. Photo by Dave Smith.

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On June 20, Hara denied a request by the group to rule that its case had sufficient merit to immediately be decided in its favor.

The lawsuit remains active, with a July 10 hearing scheduled to consider more motions on the matter.

Abercrombie decided to reactivate Kulani to house about 200 minimum-security prisoners to reduce the number of inmates incarcerated in privately run prisons and to reinvest those funds in Hawaii.

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Prison officials say it is costing the state about $40 million annually to house roughly 1,400 Hawaii inmates at Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Ariz.

As a cost-cutting move, former Gov. Linda Lingle closed Kulani in 2009 when it had about 160 inmates.

Ohana Ho`opakele President Palikapu Dedman outside the courthouse today. Photo by Dave Smith.

Ohana Ho`opakele President Palikapu Dedman outside the courthouse today. Photo by Dave Smith.

Abercrombie will be among the dignitaries taking part in an opening ceremony at Kulani at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

The first 60 inmates are expected to arrive in upcoming weeks at the so-called “prison without walls” located at the 6,000-foot level at the end of Stainback Highway.

Ohana Ho`opakele members have planned a protest Tuesday outside Kulani’s main gate.

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