It was shut down four years ago as a way to save money.
But now Kulani Correctional Facility on the Big Island has re-opened, and will house up to 200 minimum security inmates.
Ted Sakai, the director of Public Safety, said the 280-acre facility in Hilo should never have been shut down in the first place.
“I believe it was a mistake, not only in terms of the employment, but also in terms of the void in our correctional programming,” he said.
Governor Linda Lingle approved the shutdown back in 2009, saying then it was cheaper to send inmates to the mainland.
But in the end, Sakai said losing Kulani’s programs that helped inmates acquire job skills was a bigger loss.
The Hilo facility also plans to eventually hire 91 staff members, and that’s money that stays here.
Sakai said Kulani will now help bring home some of the inmates presently held in Arizona prisons. The first 25 inmates will move back in two weeks and 200 more will be moved in by year’s end.
The idea is to bring as many of them here who have family on the Big Island.
“Big Island residents will be able to come up here,” Sakai said. “It still will be a drive, but even if we have inmates from other islands, it’s going to be much easier for them to visit here than Arizona.”
There’s only one road that leads to Kulani and it’s surrounded by a forest. So Sakai said inmates escaping has never been a problem in years past.
As far as contraband, “it’s more of a challenge at a place like this because it’s open, as you folks can see. There’s no walls or fences,”
Sakai said problems should be at a minimum by keeping the inmates busy with programs. And there will be plenty of those, with inmates helping to maintain Kulani as a way to cut costs, and an area dedicated for farming, where they’ll learn to grow their own food.
“If they come here and see that it’s not hard at all to do an acre of farm or hydroponics or whatever it is they can (do to) get their lives back in order, (they’ll see it’s better than) going back and selling drugs,” said facility superintendent Jerry Crivello.