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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, November 29, 2001

Neighbors object to downtown sex-offender program

By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer

The Hawai'i Paroling Authority's plan to transfer a program for at least 94 convicted sex offenders to its downtown office is under fire from neighborhood school officials and City Council Chairman Jon Yoshimura.

On Oct. 31 the authority sent letters to St. Andrew's Priory, Royal Elementary and Central Middle schools informing officials of its plan to close its Waiakamilo Road office and consolidate operations at the authority's 1177 Alakea St. building. The move, set for Dec. 10, would send about 340 parolees, including 94 convicted sex offenders, to the busy downtown location.

But the Paroling Authority is within walking distance of St. Andrew's Priory, Central Middle and Royal Elementary, and Hawai'i Pacific University. School officials fear for the safety of their students. Many students walk by the building and some wait at a bus stop fronting the paroling authority.

"I'm very concerned because in general there's a high reoffense rate in this population, and we have 500 girls within a block of that program," said Caroline Oda, head of St. Andrew's Priory School. "There are probably much more appropriate areas in which to place a program like this."

Oda and Yoshimura also said the decision to move the program was made without community input. Yoshimura criticized Department of Public Safety officials for not providing information on what the program is about.

"The lack of information creates a lot of fear," said Yoshimura, who represents that area. "The state has assured me that this program is not really as dangerous as it is perceived. But this is something that they have not discussed with the community, and it appears to me that they have no interest in finding out what the community concerns are."

Not so, said Hawai'i Paroling Authority administrator Tommy Johnson. He said he has invited school officials to meet with him and to tour the building, but no one has taken him up on the offer.

Johnson said the decision to move to Alakea Street was made for two reasons.

The first, he said, was to save about $48,000 a year on rent and other costs at the Waiakamilo office. Johnson said the downtown location also will provide a more controlled environment.

"It reduces the cost of government, and it makes the entire Hawai'i Paroling Authority operation more efficient because the records are here, it's a more secure environment, the supervisors are here where the parole officers can get immediate approval for warrants, whereas before they had to come from across town," Johnson said.

He also said there are eight schools within walking distance of the Waiakamilo office and there have been no incidents involving sexual offenders at that location.

The parolees will be reporting to the Alakea site for regular interviews with their parole officers, not for treatment, Johnson said. He said the parolees pose little threat and already are members of the community.

"I tried to explain (to Oda) that these parolees could already be the bus driver, the cab driver, the person who serves you in the restaurant, the person in the grocery store," he said.

But a Hawai'i Pacific University spokeswoman said that regardless of whether the parolees are an actual threat, the perception that they are will have a negative effect on the downtown economy. HPU dean of communication Helen Varner said about 6,000 students attend classes each day at the school's downtown campus.

"Parents' primary concern is safety and security of their children while they're away from home," Varner said. "Whether there is actually an incident or not becomes secondary to the perception that their children will be threatened by this change."

A community meeting to discuss the move will be held Monday at 6:30 p.m. at the St. Andrew's Priory gym.