Wednesday, March 3, 1999

Big Islanders mixed
on prison funding

By Rod Thompson


Legislature '99 HILO -- State Sen. Andy Levin told a meeting of 300 people last night he wanted their opinion on whether the Legislature should appropriate $130 million to build a 2,300-bed prison near Hilo.

He got no clear-cut answer.

It was billed as a session to update the public, with comments sought from the audience, and no formal testimony was taken.

Opinions ranged from support from the 500-member Hawaii Island Board of Realtors to the claim that welfare-dependent families of prisoners would move to the island, increasing the burden on tax-supported services.

Levin has said he doesn't want to spend tax money on a prison.

"If we don't do that, the prison still can go ahead," he said, a reference to the possibility of a private company building the facility.

Sen. David Matsuura supported him, saying infrastructure costs at the Stainback Highway site -- where there is no water, no sewage treatment, and a poor road -- could raise the total price to $250 million.

He said he'd rather spend $130 million on schools.

Sen. Lorraine Inouye said she supports Gov. Ben Cayetano's plans to spend the $130 million, but wants to see the environmental study of the Stainback site, due in August.

Commenting in Honolulu, Cayetano remained firm.

"Our surveys on the Big Island indicate the overwhelming majority of the people on the Big Island support the prison (near) Kulani," he said.

"Obviously if the Legislature is not going to appropriate the money, then we may have to go to the private sector. The problem is of course that it's going to be more expensive."

Anticipating calls for rehabilitation instead of incarceration, state Department of Public Safety chief Ted Sakai told the meeting that rehabilitation just can't be done until there is more space.

Social worker and prison teacher Ginnie Aste said many prisoners are drug offenders, but they don't start to get drug treatment until they're out of prison.

She asked for a multimillion-dollar commitment to rehabilitation.

The prison, due for completion in 2002, would generate 700 jobs and a payroll of $50 million a year, the Hawaii Island Economic Development Board said in a written statement.

The board's executive, Paula Helfrich, commenting as an individual, called for a community advisory council to ensure that Big Islanders, not outsiders, get those benefits.

Sakai tried to lay to rest concerns about a private proposal to build a prison in a rural but residential part of Glenwood.

"The governor's plan is the site near Kulani. Neither the governor nor the Department (of Public Safety) solicited the Glenwood proposal," he said.

Star-Bulletin reporter Craig Gima contributed to this report.

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