Supreme Court Requests List of Non-Violent Inmates for Possible Release Statewide

August 20, 2020, 8:54 AM HST (Updated August 20, 2020, 8:54 AM)
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The Hawai‘i Supreme Court is requesting a list of all inmates who qualify for an expedited release from the Public Safety Department’s correctional facilities statewide.

The list is due no later than noon on Aug. 22. Wednesday’s interim order stems from the State Public Defender’s Office petition to release nonviolent inmates statewide to avoid a COVID-19 outbreak like the one currently happening at O‘ahu Community Correctional Center.

“At this time, additional information is necessary to assist the court and the parties in addressing the public health and safety concerns raised by the surge of COVID-19 cases in the State, including at the correctional centers and facilities, and the Petition’s request for relief,” the interim order states.

Sixteen additional OCCC inmates tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the total number of infections to 231.

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Two additional COVID-19 cases among OCCC staff brings the total to 36. PSD coordinated with the Department of Health (DOH) to conduct mass testing of all OCCC inmates in each of the 19 individual housing units there.

The Supreme Court issued two orders, the first on Aug. 15 and the second on Aug. 17, addressing the release of nonviolent pretrial prisoners for felony, petty misdemeanor and misdemeanor charges at OCCC. Hawai‘i’s top court agreed to the expedited release of petty misdemeanor and misdemeanor suspects. The prosecutor’s office is allowed to argue the release for those facing felony charges.

“This court recognizes the impact of COVID-19 on Hawaiʻi’s community correctional centers and facilities,” Wednesday’s order states. “This court also recognizes, however, the significant public safety concerns regarding the release of inmates into the community.”

While there is an urgent and immediate concern to respond to the impact of this crisis in the community correctional centers and facilities, the order indicates that such a response requires careful consideration of interests, both for public health and public safety.

Hawai‘i County prosecutor’s office and the Kona Public Defender’s Office are already working together to get a list of inmates from Hawai‘i Community Correctional Center that might qualify for release.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat. Tiffany is an award-winning journalist, receiving recognition from the Utah-Idaho-Spokane Associated Press and Society of Professional Journalists. Tiffany grew up on the Big Island and is passionate about telling the community’s stories.

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