Tuesday, April 20, 1999

Bible study, salad bar
part of proposed prison

By Bruce Dunford
Associated Press


Daily Bible study and a strict vegetarian diet for inmates would be key elements in a privately built and operated prison Sen. David Matsuura wants the state to consider for the Big Island.

Gov. Ben Cayetano, however, said his administration is not giving Matsuura's proposal any serious consideration because of anticipated strong community opposition.

"We have discussed those sites with county officials as well as some of the community members and we feel that although that site on paper may be a site that might make good sense, the fact is that the community there will not accept it," Cayetano said.

"Our efforts to put the prison in Kau and the huge community uprising that occurred will maybe be dwarfed if we tried to put it near the airport," he said.

Bakersfield, Calif.-based Maranatha Private Corrections has offered to build and run a 2,000-bed module-style prison on 150 acres of scrub brush land owned by the Watumull family four miles east of the Hilo Airport, Matsuura (D, South Hilo-Puna) said yesterday.

"The governor said if I got community support and if I can pencil it out cheaper, then he'd seriously consider this one," Matsuura said.

The company would operate the facility for 20 years and then turn it over to the state, he said.

The religious-oriented rehabilitation facility would cost the state $57 per day per inmate, compared with the state's cost of $75 to $125 per day per inmate in state prison facilities and $47 per day for Hawaii inmates housed in mainland prisons, Matsuura said.

Although the Maranatha cost would be more than sending Hawaii inmates to the mainland, the $42 million a year spent on inmates at a Hilo facility would stay in Hawaii, contributing to the Big Island's economy, Matsuura said.

The freshman senator said he's getting community support for the private prison in contrast with community opposition to other proposed sites.

Maranatha promotion materials sent to Matsuura describe a two-sided prison - one which is run like a regular state prison with strict rules and the other a "new start" side, which includes Bible classes, job training, anger management and a vegan diet, "complete with a salad bar."

Inmates are given a choice to stay on the tough side with strict discipline or to take advantage of turning their lives around and staying out of trouble once released.

The prison integrates local churches and religious groups into the rehabilitation program, Matsuura said.

"It at least gives them a fighting chance of rehabilitation," he said. "That's why it has community support."

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