Gov. Neil Abercrombie withdrew his nominee to run the state’s Office of Youth Services, but a Senate panel Tuesday confirmed him for a position on the Hawaii Paroling Authority.
Bert Matsuoka ran youth services prior to an investigation of the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility that began in 2003. Youth services, housed within the Department of Human Services, oversees the correctional facility.
The separate investigations by the ACLU of Hawaiii and the Office of the Attorney General involved allegations of physical and sexual abuse of wards by youth correctional officers.
The facility — essentially the state’s prison for people under 18 — had long been plagued with problems of mismanagement. The youth correctional officers are also members of the United Public Workers, which resisted the ACLU’s investigation into the facility.
Matsuoka was not implicated in the ACLU’s or AG’s investigations. The U.S. Department of Justice was eventually called in to monitor the Kailua facility.
DHS Director Pat McManaman directed Civil Beat’s media inquiry about Matsuoka’s withdrawn appointment to Abercrombie spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz. Dela Cruz did not respond to Civil Beat’s inquiry.
Appointed to Paroling Authority
Matsuoka’s appointment by Abercrombie to run youth services a second time was announced in January.
By February, however, the governor reappointed David Hipp, former Gov. Linda Lingle‘s appointee, to a second one-year term. The appointment does not require state Senate confirmation.
On April 1, Matsuoka was nominated by Abercrombie to serve on the Hawaii Paroling Authority.
On Tuesday afternoon, Senate Public Safety, Government Operations and Military Affairs voted in favor of the appointment, sending it to the full Senate for a final vote.
The subject of Matsuoka’s tenure at youth services came up during his confirmation hearing when Chairman Will Espero asked him if he knew how the youth correctional facility became so troubled.
“As with any correctional facility we did have our ups and downs, but I don’t know what happened after,” Matsuoka replied. “I do understand it got into a lot more hot water. We had issues during my time, but nothing as significant.”
Matsuoka also told Espero that he would not have to “step aside” should a former HYCF ward come before Matsuoka on the Paroling Authority, explaining that “it would be a whole new deal for them legally as an adult offense.”
Matsuoka, who declined to comment to Civil Beat for this article, faced no opposition in his appointment to the Paroling Authority.
According to written testimony, Matsuoka’s appointment is supported by the Paroling Authority and Jodie Maesaka-Hirata, director of the Department of Public Safety, which administers the state’s prison system.
Matsuoka also wrote a letter dated April 16 to Sen. Espero responding to the senator’s questions about Matsuoka’s appointment.
Asked to explain how he is qualified to serve on the Parole Authority, Matsuoka — who has been interim chairman of the authority for some two months now — wrote:
I feel that my experience and character allows me to view situations in an objective manner. With regard to the specific situations facing the Parole Board, I think I can bring a balanced approach in determining decisions. I believe my law enforcement experience coupled with my social services background will allow me to view a situation with minimum bias. I will place emphasis on the collected research, data, and history of the individual, and seek the input from the professionals who actually work with and are familiar with the individual.
In addition to running youth services, Matsuoka is a former Honolulu Police Department officer, DHS investigator, administrator with the DHS Volunteer Services Office, a Hawaii Department of Defense civil defense planner and a contract manager for Securitas Security Services.
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