Special Master Appointed to Address Concerns of Overcrowded Jails Amid Pandemic
The Hawai‘i Supreme Court has appointed a Special Master in response to the State Office of the Public Defender’s request to release more prisoners from the state’s overcrowded facilities to avoid a COVID-19 outbreak.
OPD filed two petitions — one to the Supreme Court and another to Gov. David Ige — asking for release or changes in the conditions of confinement of inmates across all Hawai‘i’s correctional centers and facilities. Judge Daniel R. Foley was appointed as Special Master to work with the parties in a collaborative and expeditious manner to address the issues raised in the petitions, and to recommend a resolution while protecting public health and safety.
An initial summary report from the Special Master is due by April 9, 2020.
Since the pandemic began, there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the prisons or jails. An inmate at Hawai‘i Community Correctional Center was tested for the virus, which returned negative. An inmate at O‘ahu Community Correctional Center was also tested and results are pending.
While the OCCC prisoner is not exhibiting symptoms, the individual has been placed into medical isolation until outside test results are obtained.
“The facilities have longstanding outbreak management plans in place to quickly identify, isolate and treat communicable diseases,” according to officials with Hawai‘i Public Safety Department. “They remain vigilant in their efforts to prevent and slow the spread of COVID-19.”
PSD states in a press release Thursday they are aware of the risks of over-population and crowding in the state’s jails, especially during this pandemic. The courts have already been collaborating with PSD to reduce the number of pre-trial jail detainees in custody. On March 2, the overall inmate population was 2,189 and on April 2, it was cut down to 1,750.
This substantial decrease, PSD states, is due to the efforts made by the Hawai‘i State Judiciary, local police departments and PSD’s Intake Service Division as they work together to limit the number of people requiring admittance into the jails. All decreases were pursuant to independently issued court orders.
With a 226-bed capacity, HCCC normally houses double the amount of inmates. On March 2, there 395 prisoners. As of April 2, the population was slimmed down to 336.
The Hawai‘i Supreme Court has also ordered the suspension of weekend jail sentences until a judge states otherwise.
The Hawai‘i Paroling Authority’s suspension of all parole hearings is extended to the end of April. All hearings previously scheduled to take place during this time frame are being rescheduled. All offenders who have already tentatively been granted release on parole will continue to be processed for release pursuant to the individual release requirements established by the parole board during their previous parole hearing.
Signs have been posted outside for parolees and inside for HPA staff with the latest scheduling and office updates. An information hotline was established with recorded updates for the general public. That number: 808-253-1642.