Kulani saved? Possible win for environmental, peace and justice advocates!

CORRECTION:  I was originally informed that the resolution passed by the Hawai’i State Senate effectively reversed the reset aside of Kulani Prison to the Hawaii National Guard Youth ChalleNGe program.  However, I was informed by another source that the senate vote alone may not have been sufficient to overturn the executive order by itself.   We’re digging into this to confirm.  We know that the intention of the Department of Community Safety and the Department of Land and Natural Resources is to reopen the prison.  Stay tuned to what unfolds.


The Hawai’i State Senate passed a resolution that disapproved of the reset aside of Kulani lands to the Hawaii National Guard Youth ChalleNGe program.  This is a big win for advocates of peace, justice and the environment.

The former governor Linda Lingle abruptly closed the Kulani prison, one of the most successful sex offender treatment programs in the country, and transferred the facility to the Hawaii National Guard for its youth program and, we suspected for training purposes:

The state plans to allow the U.S. Department of Defense to begin using the 20-acre Kulani facility at the end of November, he said.

The goal is to turn the prison into a Hawai’i National Guard Youth Challenge Academy for teens ages 17 and 18 who are not going to graduate from high school, Maj. Gen. Robert Lee, the state’s adjutant general, announced in July.

Prison reform activists opposed the closure of this successful prorgram.  Native Hawaiians opposed the transfer of the land to the military and sought to create a culture-based pu’uhonua (place of refuge) and healing center for nonviolent offenders.  Environmentalists wanted to preserve the 7000 acre forest that surrounded the prison facility.  DMZ-Hawai’i / Aloha ‘Aina opposed the military land grab.

In 2009, we called the closure a land grab:

Governor Lingle suddenly and unexpectedly closed Kulani Prison, one of the most successful offender treatment programs in Hawai’i.  Why?  She said it was to save money.  She then said that the facility would be turned over to the Hawaii National Guard to convert it into a Youth Challenge military school.  However, this article reports that the National Guard has neither the funds nor the plan to implement this convesion.  So what’s the real reason for the transfer to the military?   Prison reform, environmental, Hawaiian sovereignty and peace activists now suspect that the land transfer may have more to do with the military gaining access to 8000 acres of Waiakea forest for training purposes.   Stay tuned…

In September 2010, the National Guard expanded its request to include various types of military training.   The community blasted the proposal.   The Board of Land and Natural Resources voted against allowing training in the area, but approved the transfer of the Kulani prison facility to the National Guard.   DMZ-Hawai’i / Aloha ‘Aina, the Community Alliance on Prisons and cultural practitioner Michael Lee petitioned for a contested case hearing to challenge the Board’s decision.

In November 2010, I wrote on this website:

Yesterday Governor Lingle was on hand to dedicate the new Youth ChalleNGe facility at the former Kulani prison site on Hawai’i island. This was reported in the Honolulu Star Advertiser and Hawaii News Now.

But wait.

The Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) decision to transfer the land from the Department of Public Safety to the state Department of Defense is being challenged by three parties: Kat Brady of the Community Alliance on Prisons, Michael Lee, a Kanaka Maoli cultural practitioner and lineal descendant with ties to the lands in question and DMZ-Hawai’i / Aloha ‘Aina. Read more here and here

The three parties requested a contested case hearing before the BLNR.  This should place a hold on the BLNR decision going into effect.   To date, there has  been no correspondence from BLNR to the intervening parties.

The Kulani prison lands, which are zoned for conservation, were set aside decades ago by executive order of the Governor exclusively for a prison.  No other uses are permitted.   When Governor Lingle closed the Kulani prison she announced that she was giving the facility to the National Guard for the Youth ChalleNGe program.   The Department of Public Safety and the Department of Defense signed a memorandum of agreement to transfer the occupancy of the facility.   But the previous executive order has not been officially terminated. And a new executive order has not been issued nor approved by the legislature.   So the the new Youth ChalleNGe facility is illegal.

DMZ-Hawai’i / Aloha ‘Aina and the Community Alliance on Prisons issued a statement denouncing the move.

Now Kulani has come full circle.  The National Guard will have to pack up and leave the facility.   Kulani prison will reopen.   And the pristine forest surrounding it will be protected as part of the Natural Areas Reserve.  Mahalo to all who testified, educated, lobbied and spoke out against the military land grab at Kulani.

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