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Saturday, January 22, 2000

Locate new state
prison in Hawaii

Bullet The issue: The state needs a new prison, either in Hawaii or on the mainland.

Bullet Our view: The Legislature should decide the issue this year -- in favor of a Hawaii site.

AFTER spinning their wheels fruitlessly last year on the prison issue, legislators seem to have reached a consensus of sorts that a new prison is needed and that it should be built in Hawaii. Let's hope they follow through and make a real decision.

Governor Cayetano started in office by scrapping plans for a prison on the Big Island, only to reverse course when he belatedly realized there was an urgent need for a new facility. The state has been shipping inmates to mainland facilities to relieve overcrowding in its own institutions.

Cayetano then explored proposals to locate the prison in the Big Island's Kau district and near the existing Kulani Correctional Center on the slopes of Mauna Kea, but encountered opposition in both cases.

More recently the governor has been leaning to building a prison on the mainland -- specifically on Creek Indian Nation land in Oklahoma. This plan is supposed to produce savings in both construction and operation of the prison compared with a Hawaii location.

However, all the money involved would be spent outside the state and would be of no benefit to Hawaii's economy. Building a prison in the state would provide employment for residents as construction workers and prison guards. The state would get some of its money back in taxes, which would not be the case with a mainland prison.

In addition, inmates' prospects for rehabilitation presumably would be improved because it would be easier for their families and friends to visit them.

Last year state Sen. Andy Levin, co-chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, blocked the Cayetano administration's request for a $150 million bond authorization to build a 2,300-bed medium-security prison near the Kulani Correctional Center.

Levin, who represents Kau-South Kona, has changed his position. Although he believes the prison should be built on Oahu, he says he will not block a privately built, privately operated prison on the Big Island if the community wants it.

In addition, Rep. Nestor Garcia, chairman of the House Public Safety Committee, says he has change his opinion and now prefers a private prison somewhere in the state to one located on the mainland.

A late addition to the speculation over a prison site is a Hawaiian Homes area between the Hilo landfill and Hilo airport. A group of business people, social workers and other Big Island residents are supporting the idea provided that it offers intensive treatment for drug addiction.

This makes sense -- as does the general idea that a prison in Hawaii is better than one on the mainland.

The need for a new prison can't be ignored. The legislators must pull their heads out of the sand this year and face the need to make a difficult decision.

Helms sounds off at
Security Council

Bullet The issue: Sen. Jesse Helms appeared before the United Nations Security Council, criticizing the U.N.'s handling of its finances.

Bullet Our view: Helms probably made no converts but his appearance may have made a valuable impression.

FOR many years Sen. Jesse Helms has been fulminating against the United Nations. On Thursday he got a chance to sound off before the Security Council. The North Carolina conservative, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, was the first member of Congress ever to address the Council. His message: the U.N. must get its financial house in order.

Far from being intimidated, Helms told the Council representatives Americans feel "a lack of gratitude" and "a deep frustration with this institution." He warned that any attempt by the United Nations "to impose its presumed authority on the American people without their consent" could lead to an eventual U.S. withdrawal from the world body.

After failing to pay its dues to the United Nations for three years, Congress last year voted to free up $926 million in back dues and made a $100 million installment. However, it tied strings to the release of the rest of the money -- conditions drafted by Helms and Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., the senior minority member of the Foreign Relations Committee. These included reduction of the U.S. share of peacekeeping operations from the present 31 percent to 25 percent and a reduction of the U.N. bureaucracy.

Helms evidently didn't win any friends with his appearance. Several representatives from other countries responded that the United States is not living up to its responsibilities. Peter van Walsum, of the Netherlands, commented that "under the U.N. charter, a member state cannot attach conditions to its willingness to pay."

The conditions demanded by Helms have found little support thus far in the General Assembly, which would have to approve the changes.

But his appearance may have been useful because he reflects the opinions of many Americans who resent the fact that the United States carries a much larger share of the burden of funding the U.N. than any other country. For that reason, it is hard for Americans to accept the United States' defeats in the Security Council and the General Assembly.

The U.N. would be wise to accept a reduction in U.S. dues and peacekeeping assessments as a way of easing the resentment of Americans who share Helms' views. But it's difficult to foresee an amicable resolution of this conflict in view of the displeasure of other member nations with U.S. dominance.

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