Monday, February 06, 2006

New State-Of-The-Art Home For Sex Offenders

Seattle, US -- Since last September, a million-dollar, state-of-the-art residence for sex offenders in Seattle has sat vacant, open for business but empty, while officials dickered over who should move in.

Meanwhile, the state was spending about $62,000 to rent the converted warehouse, and another $385,400 to pay staff -- all in preparation for today, when Joseph Aqui, a convicted serial rapist, becomes the first resident.

Last Thursday, Aqui sat politely before King County Superior Court Judge Paris Kallas, saying he understood the conditions of his confinement -- a ban on pornography, prohibitions against social contact with women and children and several dozen additional rules. He thanked the system for giving him another chance.

"I think this is a win-win situation for the state, myself and my family," he said, standing before the judge in red prison pajamas. "I'm dedicated to making this successful."

His new home, a brick-and-cinderblock dorm beneath the Spokane Street Viaduct, was built to hold six residents. But for the foreseeable future Aqui, 53, will be there alone, wandering the beige hallways, reading in his room or watching videos -- previewed by his treatment team -- on the dormitory's 27-inch set. Five other sex offenders living in Pierce County are eligible to move in, but none wishes to.

The Seattle home, built after a federal court ordered the state to reintegrate sex offenders into society and the subject of much community debate over location, has a stark, institutional feel, the Pierce County sex offenders have said. Also, they say, it is too much in the public eye.

The state plans to spend $3.7 million to operate the secure community-treatment facility over the two years. With 1,800-pound magnetic door locks, 24-hour video cameras, solar lighting tubes and a high-tech command center, it cost $1.7 million to build.

A team of 17 staffers will be deployed in shifts to watch Aqui around the clock as the facility's sole resident does his own laundry, cooks his own food in the suburban-style kitchen and looks for work. At least once a week, he'll travel to Bellevue, under supervision, for sex offender treatment and during down time walk through the "garden," a fenced-in, plantless patch of cement beneath the highway.

Despite a history of violating court-ordered directives against viewing pornography and having affairs, Aqui also will be permitted to make unmonitored phone calls and watch cable TV.

Aqui, however, has proved time and again that obeying state-set boundaries is not his strong suit.

After being convicted of rape and burglary in 1973, he served almost two decades in state prison before being civilly committed to a special commitment center for sexually violent predators on McNeil Island. Three years later, he was released to live with his wife and children at their home near Walla Walla on condition that he abide by certain rules, including marital fidelity.

But Aqui admitted to having an affair with a woman he'd met at church, and returned to McNeil Island in 2001, only to be released later that year under new, stricter conditions.

He flouted those, too, and was sent back to the special commitment center in 2003, where he has lived ever since, a model of rule-abiding decorum, staff say.

For 30 years his pattern has been to gain the trust of supervisors, then deceive them. Discussing Aqui's case before Judge Kallas in 2003, prosecutor David Hackett quoted an exasperated therapist at Western State Hospital as saying, "It is obvious that we were completely fooled by this very charming, clever and utterly unscrupulous individual."

Nevertheless, last week Hackett appeared relieved at the latest resolution to what he termed "a long and bumpy road with Mr. Aqui."

"I think this is a good solution," he said. "It gives both the community and Mr. Aqui a chance for success."

Aqui's first week at the community home will likely be a quiet one, Ziegler said, without many trips to the supermarket, library or other places he may eventually visit.

He'll meet his therapist, Myrna Pinedo, and his community corrections officer, then spend time getting to know the staff.

"Since he's the first person here, he'll probably have a chance to pick his own room," Ziegler quipped.

There is no time limit on Aqui's residency on South Spokane Street. Throughout it, he'll wear an electronic monitoring bracelet and be personally escorted wherever he goes.

Even if Aqui and his wife, Rita, want to have dinner together, their chosen restaurant will have to be prescreened and state-approved, with a staffer sitting at a table nearby, watching.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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