Prosecutors, OPD Review List of HCCC Inmates Eligible for Release
As a result, Hawai‘i County’s Office of the Prosecuting Attorney and the Kona Public Defender’s Office are looking at ways to reduce the prisoner population at the Big Island jail.
Dale Ross, First Deputy Prosecutor, and the local public defender’s office will go through the entire population at Hawai‘i Community Correctional Center (HCCC) to narrow down which inmates are eligible for release. In the next couple of days, Ross said there will be an individualized review of the prisoners.
A state Department of Public Safety (PSD) bi-monthly report indicated there were a total of 355 inmates at HCCC as of Aug. 17. The operating capacity of the facility is 226. Among those prisoners, 164 are pretrial suspected felons and 30 are pretrial misdemeanor suspects.
“We will be objecting to those inmates being released, especially if they are repeat offenders and prior to their incarceration (were) demonstrating out of control behavior,” Ross explained.
Ann Datta, the supervisor over the Kona Public Defender’s Office, said she is working with Ross to see if there are cases they can agree on for release. But ultimately, it’s up to the judge.
“I’m hoping to address things earlier here than they did on O‘ahu so we don’t overwhelm Hilo Medical Center,” Datta added.
As of Tuesday, there were 216 inmates infected with the virus at OCCC and 39 staff, according to the PSD statistics. On Aug. 12, the State Office of the Public Defender (OPD) filed a petition asking Hawai‘i’s top court to release nonviolent inmates from facilities across the state.
The Supreme Court responded to the petition with two separate orders — one addressing inmates charged with petty misdemeanors and misdemeanors, and the other addressing suspected felony offenders. Both orders were specific to OCCC. The second order allows for the court record to review an individual’s case, with an opportunity for the prosecution to object.
According to the Aug. 18 order related to felony releases, the Supreme Court recognized the impact COVID-19 is having on Hawaiʻi’s community correctional centers and facilities — and the urgency by which suitable, yet balanced, action is required.
“Responding to the impact of this crisis in our community correctional centers and facilities requires a careful consideration of interests, both for public health and public safety,” the order regarding felony releases states.
Ross said the prosecutor’s office is committed to reviewing the list of inmates who fall into the categories OPD petitioned to release statewide.
“We will do an individualized review to include criminal history, input from victims, and other factors to see if there are any who could be released by stipulation,” Ross stated in an email.
Ross said it’s important for the public to know that the public defender’s petition and the orders so far are seeking only the release of inmates charged with nonviolent crimes.
Unfortunately, Ross explained, those released may also include some drug, gun, and property crime offenders who were being “very out of control in the community.”
OPD believes the following prisoners could be released immediately:
- Inmates serving a sentence (not to exceed 18 months) as a condition of felony deferral or probation.
- Inmates serving sentences for a misdemeanor or petty misdemeanor convictions.
- All pretrial detainees charged with a petty misdemeanor or a misdemeanor offense.
- All pretrial detainees charged with a felony.
Prisoners who are in jail for sexual assault, family abuse, those who’ve violated temporary restraining orders, as well as those who have committed burglaries and robberies don’t qualify for this release.
Ross said she’d prefer if the state and judiciary would provide the Public Safety Department the resources needed to safely intake, house, then release inmates according to decisions made by lower courts.
“The state and judiciary should use COVID relief funding for this purpose, if available,” Ross stated. “Everyone at these facilities, to include the workers, deserve to be as safe as possible during this pandemic.”