Puunene Jail May Support Infrastructure and Inmate Programs

March 1, 2012, 10:34 AM HST · Updated March 2, 7:14 AM
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Maui Community Correctional Center, file photo by Wendy Osher.

By Wendy Osher

Officials with the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands led a presentation on the proposed Public Safety Complex in Puunene before the Council’s Policy Committee on Wednesday.

The discussion comes as the state prepares for the release of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project, which is now projected to be released in April instead of March. An exact date is still pending.

Alapaki Nahale-a, director of the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands said the Puunene Jail would provide cost sharing opportunities for the establishment of infrastructure in the area.

He said DHHL has interest in the development because of Hawaiian Home Lands located nearby and the opportunity that the jail provides in bringing native Hawaiian inmates home from mainland prisons.

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“Our firm belief at Hawaiian Homes is that the facility (the Puunene jail) by itself, would be hard to swallow, financially; but the facility as part of the region that advances the other region’s interests, is something that the decision-makers may chose to approve,” said Nahale-a.

The DHHL owns two parcels of land in the area.  The mauka parcel is considered to be a revenue-generating piece for commercial and industrial use, that would give the department the dollars it needs to provide the infrastructure to build homes.

The other DHHL parcel, on the Kihei side, Nahale-a said, would be used to expand agricultural homesteading–noting that there is a longer wait-list for on Maui for agricultural homesteads than there is for residential homestead lots.

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“We are obligated to develop that commercial piece and the homesteading, whether or not anyone else in the region comes.  We just know, we’re all better off if we go together,” said Nahale-a.

“When we negotiate these leases, the existing infrastructure, or the lack thereof is part of the negotiations,” said Nahale-a, who noted the potential impact lease rent prices.

“One of the reasons we want the region to develop is it makes our land more valuable–for both purposes: commercial revenue generation of that piece, but it also makes it cheaper for us to provide homesteading because we share the cost of the infrastructure,” said Nahale-a.

“I don’t want to be the guy who goes first, take the least amount of revenue, and everyone else comes on our back,” he said.  By entering into the plan together, costs can be shared in a partnership approach, said Nahale-a.

What Hawaiian Homes is offering to do is put together a proposal that articulates all the needs in the region. “We’re trying to bring all of those folks together, lay them all on top of each other and say, where are we aligned, where are we in conflict, and what can we do to resolve those conflicts together, now, so that we can go forward as public entities together,” said Nahale-a.

“There’s never been a plan put forward where folks can see all of the connections, and that’s what we’re trying to do on a very focused timetable,” said Nahale-a.

Nahale-a described DHHL as a rich land trust that is low on dollars.  He said, ultimately funding for the jail would be a general fund expenditure.

He also spoke to the benefits that the jail would have in providing Hawaiian cultural programs to inmates.

“Evidence is clear that for many Hawaiian folks who are incarcerated, having a cultural element that addresses their historical and self-esteem issues, helps them get back into society positively,” said Nahale-a.

“By being on the development side for us, I think we have more say in insisting that that happens… that way we can assert that right,” he said.

Puunene Jail Would Address Concerns at MCCC

Others who spoke in support of the project included James Hirano, from the Maui Community Correctional Center.

“I do want to applaud Alapaki for his leadership and his courage to put it out there and be in support of a very controversial building,” said Hirano.

Hirano said the facility would help to address overcrowding issues at the current correctional center in Wailuku and provide plans for future needs.

Hirano said the MCCC was initially built in the 1940s to house Japanese during the war.  According to Hirano, the facility was turned over to the state in 1973, and several years later, the barracks were removed, and the facility was transformed into a correctional center.

By around 1990, the community work like, Project Pride, built dorms and a workshop at the site.

In 1994, the site was expanded to make the current footprint which sits on seven acres of land, surrounded by a residential community. It includes 6,000 square feet of program space utilized by religious groups , core programs, and specialty and Hawaiian cultural groups that all compete for the space.

“We’ve built and built, and built, and we can build no longer,” said Hirano of the existing Wailuku facility. “This new facility (in Puunene) will give us a real advantage to start to expand all of these programs.”

Hirano said that just this weekend, MCCC had 380 people in a facility that was designed infrastructure-wise for 209 individuals.  “That’s sending 60 people to the Federal Detention Center on a contract bed agreement with the feds; so if you add them, you’re talking mid-400s.  If you add about 40 people from women’s, which qualifies probably for programming at MCCC, that’s another (addition),” he said.

“So we’re already talking about numbers that would be benefited by staying on Maui, if we built a facility that could accommodate them,” said Hirano.

According to Hirano, there is about a 64% success rate on parole in Maui County.  “That’s probably the second highest in the state–the highest being Kauai.  So that means six to seven people out of 10 that go on parole actually don’t come back (to MCCC).”

Hirano said that by building the Puunene facility, it will give Maui corrections officials an opportunity to work with inmates that otherwise would be sent to the Federal Detention Center because of the current overcrowded conditions on Maui.

“The ability to build another 240-some-odd beds there, within the perimeter that is available to us–not only do we have the opportunity on Maui to create something that is sufficient to currently address what we have; if need be–if we cannot keep stemming this tide of revolving door–we do have the ability to build another 200-plus on that property.  So that expansion capability is actually built into this planning,” said Hirano.

Hirano said if the Puunene jail could be build, “what that would do for us is going to impact the Maui community long after you and I are both retired,” he said.

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