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Plans to relocate Kulani inmates under way


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POSTED: Saturday, July 25, 2009

The 123 prisoners in Kulani Correctional Facility on the Big Island are being relocated to other secure locations as the state prepares to close the Hilo prison by the end of October.

State Public Safety Director Clayton Frank announced yesterday the prison would be closed in a cost-cutting move, saving the state an estimated $2.8 million a year.

Prisoners, who are in the final three years of their sentences and preparing for their release, include 75 who are in the prison's renowned sex-offender treatment program.

“;There are no plans for early release of these inmates,”; Frank said.

The land and other facilities on the property are being turned over to the Hawaii National Guard for use as a Youth Challenge Academy, a program that helps troubled youths earn high school diplomas.

Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi said he and other members of the Hilo community are hopeful the loss of the prison—and the 76 jobs that are being cut with it—will be mitigated by the addition of the Youth Challenge Academy.

“;We think that's a great use of the facility,”; Kenoi said yesterday in a telephone interview. “;We feel that proposal and that curriculum target our at-risk population in these challenging times. We welcome that.”;

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The Kulani prison is scheduled to close in the fall.

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Maj. Gen. Robert Lee, the state's adjutant general, said he has asked the National Guard to approve a second Youth Challenge Academy in Hawaii, and said he expects the request to be honored based on past performance of the existing academy at Kalaeloa.

The announced closure of Kulani was expected after all employees were notified this week that their jobs were among those being cut as Gov. Linda Lingle moved forward with layoff procedures aimed at closing a $786 million budget shortfall.

Employees at Kulani are represented by the United Public Workers and Hawaii Government Employees Association, which received the layoff notices Monday.

“;Gov. Lingle's decision to close Kulani Correctional Facility is of great concern to us,”; HGEA Executive Director Randy Perreira said in a statement released by the union. “;The closure will have a huge impact not only on the employees who work there, but on the Big Island community as well.

“;The programs provided at Kulani, including the sex-offender treatment program, are vital to inmates' rehabilitation process.”;

Frank said the state will try to find alternative programs for those in the sex-offender program.

The decision to close Kulani was made after evaluating all department operations.

“;It is not fiscally feasible to continue to operate Kulani during this difficult economic climate,”; he said.

Kenoi said he also is hopeful that laid-off employees can receive additional vocational education training. “;Hopefully there are other places for them in the Department of Public Safety at other facilities,”; he said.