Friday, April 6, 2001

Governor should
support ‘drug prison’

The issue: The Legislature is
considering a bill to build a prison
on the Big Island for first-time,
nonviolent drug offenders.

MORE prison space has been among Governor Cayetano's goals but the Legislature has failed to agree on a facility to his liking. Just as the governor seems to have given up, legislators have come up with an idea consistent with his past proposals and worthy of his support: a privately operated facility on the Big Island custom-made for first-time, nonviolent drug offenders. The proposal would ease overcrowded prison conditions while recognizing the importance of providing treatment for incarcerated drug offenders.

Hawaii now sends 1,200 inmates to privately run prisons on the mainland. Cayetano has advocated a privately operated prison on the Big Island as more cost-efficient and manageable because of union and civil-service requirements covering government workers. Last year's Legislature approved a bill for a privately operated prison, but Cayetano vetoed it because it would have given the United Public Workers union an unfair advantage in bidding for the contract to operate it.

UPW leader Gary Rodrigues has indicated support for the new proposal, even though it calls for a University of Hawaii corporation to negotiate a contract, oversee the operation and conduct research on drug-abuse treatment and related areas. Ted Sakai, the state's director of public safety, says a New Jersey-based company that operates 23 facilities in 10 states is interested in bidding for the contract.

The governor's earlier proposals ran into opposition on the Big Island, but the new bill is sponsored by David Matsuura, who represents South Hilo and Puna in the state Senate and is vice-chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Matsuura says a 600-bed rehabilitation facility would help him tout the Big Island as the "healing island."

Sakai favors allowing a larger pool of inmates -- those who commit crimes to support their drug habits -- into the facility. While about 20 percent of Hawaii's inmates are serving time for drug crimes, a much higher percentage of inmates committed crimes that were substance-abuse related.

But the line should be drawn somewhere, and a federal survey indicates that three-fourths of all prisoners were involved with alcohol or drug abuse in the time leading to their arrest. Numerous studies have shown that treatment of inmates' substance-abuse problems have been effective in combatting the revolving door of incarceration, release and rearrest.

The proposal would come at a cost "slightly more than mainland imprisonment of isle inmates," but would put Hawaii on the right track in applying appropriate treatment of drug offenders.

Be fair to businesses
in Waikiki gateway area

The issue: Mayor Harris has big plans
for the area around the convention center.

IN CREATING his "gateway to Waikiki," Mayor Harris should be careful to treat fairly the businesses and people the city plans to relocate for the project that he envisions would eventually surround the Hawaii Convention Center.

Harris this week outlined the first segment of a special district, which he first proposed in his state of the city address in January, that would disallow such operations as strip clubs, hostess bars and other adult-entertainment along Kalakaua Avenue and Kapiolani Boulevard.

The plan is part of a far-ranging initiative that could extend from McCully Street to Piikoi and from the Ala Wai canal as far mauka as Young Street. The mayor contends that this area is "plagued with problems with the bars, with noise and with prostitution and drugs," and should no longer be tolerated.

According to Hawaii statutes, the city has the legal standing to ban operations it deems "nonconforming" and to condemn the land. Some business owners and land owners are skeptical, however, that the $3 million budgeted for land acquisition and $250,000 for relocation will be adequate. Troy Alotis, part owner of Da Hui, a surf shop that just opened in December, said the cost of refurbishing the store alone totaled more than $100,000. Harris should ensure that compensation will be equitable.

The mayor wants to replace the area's aging buildings and dusty parking lots with landscaped space, walkways, low-rise structures and outdoor cafes. No doubt these would be improvements. Still, the city should be mindful of creating a manufactured atmosphere instead of one that has true character and charm. Sterile, manicured surroundings can result in an ambience that's more Disneyland than Hawaii. Tourists are smart enough to sense that distinction, especially if few residents are attracted to the district.

No civic-minded official can dispute that strip clubs and adult-oriented businesses may not enhance a tourist-sensitive city such as Honolulu. But ours is a free market system and that these businesses do exist and even thrive shows there are people who want to spend their money in such establishments.

Finally, although a good number of the businesses in the area can be characterized euphemistically as adult, others are retailers that one might find in any shopping mall around town.

Harris should be careful not to lump these legitimate enterprises with others he may consider less acceptable. He should also give these businesses fair treatment when the city calls for bids to occupy the new and improved gateway to Waikiki.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, President

John Flanagan, publisher and editor in chief 529-4748;
Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

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