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Friday, July 28, 2000

Pearl City
parents fear

A meeting with the treatment
center's director fails to reassure many

By Lori Tighe


As 50 residents protested outside, the director of a controversial sex offender treatment facility tried to assure a Pearl City gathering that the center would be safe.

The 10-bed center will treat boys ages 12 to 17 who have had sexual relations with a family member, a relative, or someone they baby-sat, said Bret Marshall, medical director of Benchmark, a sex-offender treatment hospital based in Salt Lake City. Benchmark has agreed to run Hawaii's new center.

Parents vigorously oppose the center's location within a half-mile of Momilani Elementary and Pearl City High schools, and a residential area.

The center, 70 percent completed, is scheduled to open this fall.

"I understand people have been afraid and worried. They're concerned and I clearly honor that," said Marshall at last night's Pearl City Neighborhood Board meeting in the Pearl City Library.

An estimated 96 percent of child sex abusers were abused at home, he said.

"We're not treating felons." Marshall said. "These are children with problems."

The boys will live at the center for one to two years and receive therapy. They will also attend their own school on the site.

The center will have locked doors, 24-hour staff, safety glass windows, safety screens, a fenced-in lanai and a basketball court.

Marshall said no youths escaped from its 68-bed facility in Salt Lake City during its 12 years of operation.

"I feel confident we can run a 10-bed facility here safely," Marshall said. "I know we can."

But Chris Bayot, chairwoman of Residents for Responsible Government, doesn't believe it.

"We're concerned about the safety of the children," Bayot said. "These are adjudicated sex offenders, in some cases with neighbors and in baby-sitting situations. These are repeat offenders. On average they committed six offenses."

She hopes to change the state's decision to place the center in Pearl City. "My goal is to keep it from opening here completely," Bayot said.

The courts have already found the state in contempt of the Felix consent decree, which ordered the sex treatment center in place by June 30. The state may receive an additional 18 months before it must comply with the Felix consent decree.

Bayot suggests the state wait and find another location in the meantime.

Gov. Ben Cayetano promised Pearl City residents the center would be in Pearl City temporarily for up to two years and then be relocated.

"We looked around at all possible sites and this was the most amenable to our needs," said Jim Efstation, director of clinical services with the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Division.

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