Thursday, January 3, 2002

City rebuffed
in plan to keep
parolees away

Schools downtown fear the presence
of convicted sex offenders

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

Gov. Ben Cayetano is opposing a plan that would delay moving the state's parole office for sex offenders to a downtown Honolulu building near several schools.

A spokeswoman for the governor said he is exploring other possible solutions to an issue that has enraged some people in the downtown community.

Tommy Johnson, state parole administrator, said that if no resolution is found, the move could be done by the end of next week.

The Hawaii Paroling Authority agreed last month to delay moving its sex offender parole program to the agency's main office on 1177 Alakea St. to allow time for community concerns to be addressed. The move would save the agency money, helping to fund necessary staffing, he said.

Officials and parents from St. Andrew's Priory School for Girls, Hawaii Pacific University, and Central Middle and Royal Elementary schools have raised objections to the proposal that 340 parolees, including 88 sex offenders, report to a building near their campuses.

The move was ordered by the paroling authority to save money in tough economic times. Johnson said he asked state officials to find other available space but was told none is available.

City Council Chairman Jon Yoshimura said yesterday he and Mayor Jeremy Harris had found $50,000 in the city treasury that would allow the Sex Offenders Intensive Supervision Program to remain at its present site on Waiakamilo Road in Kalihi for another year.

Yoshimura said that would give the state more time to find an alternative to moving the program to where the main probation office has been for about five years.

"I think $50,000 is a nominal figure to buy some time so the Legislature can address this issue, and also to buy some peace of mind for the thousands of people who have either family or friends who are going to school or working in the downtown area," he said.

But Cayetano spokeswoman Jackie Kido said the governor does not endorse that plan.

"The idea is to reduce costs because the state cannot afford to keep a second facility up and running," Kido said. "A temporary, one-year expenditure by the city doesn't address the problem."

Cayetano, she said, "is interested in a long-term solution and approach to solving this, and he will continue to keep an open mind in looking for alternatives."

One of those plans calls for the sex-offender parole program to move to the Ala Moana building that now houses the main Department of Public Safety offices.

State Sen. Rod Tam said the state-owned building at 919 Ala Moana contains about 1,400 square feet of space.

Johnson said the anticipated move to Alakea Street by the sex offender program is supposed to be temporary.

The long-term plan is to move most paroling functions to a planned second state office tower in Kapolei, but that would be several years down the road, he said.

The closest campus to the paroling office is St. Andrew's -- directly across South Beretania Street. St. Andrew's, Central and Royal together have about 1,500 students, while Hawaii Pacific has an average of 6,000 students a day at its downtown campus.

Opponents of moving the program to the downtown site have pointed to the 3 percent recidivism rate in Hawaii for convicted sex offenders. While lower than the national average, they say, it still is not acceptable for a school area.

"That's outstanding. They're doing a good job," said Helen Varner, HPU dean of communications. "But that's too much."

Some of the schools have expressed concern about losing enrollment, and Varner said the presence of the program could hasten HPU's departure from downtown Honolulu.

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