Saturday, October 30, 1999

Big Island is
the best place
to build prison

Bullet The issue: Governor Cayetano is reconsidering the decision to build a prison on the Big Island in the face of strong opposition.
Bullet Our view: Giving up on the Big Island and building on the mainland instead would be a mistake.

IT is a distressing sign of the times that Governor Cayetano has gotten so discouraged about building a 2,300-bed prison on the Big Island that he is about to give up and resort to a mainland location.

This is another example of the "not in my backyard" syndrome that has blocked many important projects in these islands, and a particularly unfortunate one.

Building a prison on the mainland for Hawaii convicts -- sites in Arizona and New Mexico are said to be under consideration -- would amount to throwing the state's money away.

Construction and operating charges that would be paid to Hawaii workers, with resulting benefits to the local economy and tax revenues to the state, would be lost. It has been estimated that the prison would create 600 jobs for construction and 600 permanent jobs for its operation.

With the state economy struggling to recovery from a prolonged period of stagnation, this makes no sense, even if construction costs would be lower at the mainland locations under consideration.

Moreover, housing Hawaii inmates in mainland institutions -- whether operated by the state of Hawaii or other governments -- isolates the inmates from family and friends, which can damage their morale and make their rehabilitation more difficult.

There are now nearly 1,200 Hawaii inmates in four mainland prisons in Oklahoma, Minnesota and Tennessee. The contract to house them expires in two years.

Clearly a prison is not an institution that most people would like to have in their neighborhood. Even in the sparsely populated and economically depressed Kau district, opposition to a prison was strong and strident. Environmental problems have arisen regarding the proposed Kulani site, also on the Big Island.

But what of the social environmental problem of dealing with convicted criminals? Doesn't that matter at all?

These problems could be resolved if the will existed to compromise and move ahead, but too many people are more intent on blocking a prison than solving problems -- regardless of the state's economic needs and any other considerations beyond their dislike of prisons.

Cayetano now says he is stepping back from the decision to build on the Big Island at all and asking his cabinet members to reconsider the issue. He points out that his administration can't move without the cooperation of Big Island Sen. Andrew Levin, who as co-chairman of the Ways and Means Committee has blocked funding for a prison.

"I'm tired of fighting these battles," Cayetano said. "You go to the mainland, you build it in the middle of the desert. Nobody cares. And we do it cheaper."

The governor's position has undergone changes since he took office. He began by scrapping previous plans for a prison on the Big Island, saying he would prefer to spend the money on education. But the need to relieve prison overcrowding and end the shipping of inmates to mainland institutions convinced him to switch to support for prison construction -- only to face continuing opposition in a Legislature that has been enthusiastic about mandating prison time for criminals.

Cayetano has called for more funding for drug treatment programs as an alternative in some cases to prison sentences, an idea that is worthy of support.

However, at the same time the need for more prison space is a condition that cannot be ignored. Legislators who have blocked prison construction ought to get their heads out of the sand and face that reality.


Arizona Memorial film
misrepresents AJAs

Bullet The issue: A film shown to visitors at the Arizona Memorial theater notes the military's fear of sabotage by the local Japanese community but does not point out that no sabotage was ever proved.
Bullet Our view: All concerned deserve credit for correcting the film.

IT is a fact that military authorities in Hawaii feared sabotage by Hawaii's Japanese citizens and Japanese-American community before and after the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor. It is also a fact that no act of sabotage by local Japanese was ever proved.

The film shown to visitors at the Arizona Memorial theater on the Pearl Harbor attack shows a Japanese man cutting sugar cane. The narrator mentions the threat of sabotage. But the film neglects to note that the FBI found no evidence of any sabotage by the local Japanese community.

This omission rankled James and Yoshie Tanabe when they saw the film. "It leaves a doubt in viewers' minds, maybe that's why the Japanese were sent to detention camps," explained Yoshie Tanabe, 68. "I felt wronged when I am depicted as a possible saboteur."

The Tanabes asked the National Park Service, which operates the Arizona Memorial, for a private viewing of the film with representatives of the Japanese American Citizens League and the Americans of Japanese Ancestry Veterans Council. Those organizations supported the Tanabes' request to correct the film. Rep. Patsy Mink joined the effort. The Pearl Harbor Survivors Association endorsed the proposed change.

The service agreed to delete from the film the scene of the man cutting cane. It also decided to introduce the movie with a disclaimer that no act of sabotage by local Japanese was ever proved.

To the Tanabes' credit, they spoke up to correct a rendition of history that could be misinterpreted. To the National Park Service's credit, it accepted the correction.

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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