Investigate Hale Kipa


POSTED: Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The beating death of a Honolulu cab driver has put a spotlight on Hale Kipa, the nonprofit licensed and paid by the state to house the troubled young men who now stand accused of murder.

The criminal case is in the hands of Honolulu police and prosecutors, of course, but the state Department of Health has launched its own investigation into whether Hale Kipa properly supervised the suspects, ages 17 and 18, who lived in a therapeutic group home on Damon Street in Manoa.

While that facility had not previously generated much notice, another Hale Kipa group home in Manoa had prompted so many complaints over the past three years—including that the residents lacked proper supervision—that the Manoa Neighborhood Board last December passed a resolution demanding state action.

That home, on Loulu Street, was vacated this month, KITV reported, after the May 1 slaying in which the Damon Street residents stand accused.

Police said cabbie Charlys Ty Tang was fatally beaten on his 41st birthday by a fare-cheating duo he had driven from Waikiki to Waipahu in the middle of the night.

Hale Kipa Chief Executive Officer Punky Pletan-Cross insists the organization has met all the obligations of its state contracts and has cooperated in the police investigation of Tang's slaying. But he refused to discuss specifics, or even to acknowledge that the suspects lived at the Damon Street home, citing confidentiality requirements.

Hale Kipa's website describes its therapeutic group homes, which number about 20 on four islands, as places that provide 24-hour care for youths ages 12 through 20 whose emotional and behavioral disturbances are so severe that they cannot be safely managed in a less restrictive setting.

To qualify for placement, the youth must have already undergone less restrictive treatment that failed to help, and he or she must be at imminent risk for an even more restrictive program.

Helping such disturbed people become productive members of society is no simple task, and it is easy to second-guess decisions once things go wrong. We are not quick to lay blame here, on Hale Kipa or on the accused, who have not been tried and convicted.

But given the seriousness of the matter and the fact that privacy rules meant to protect Hale Kipa's clients also shield their taxpayer-supported supervisors from public scrutiny, an immediate and thorough investigation by the Department of Health is not only warranted, but essential.

The results should be made public, and changes at all such therapeutic group homes should be rapid if supervision is found lacking.