24 HCCC Inmates Released in Effort to Avoid COVID-19 Outbreak

August 28, 2020, 11:32 AM HST (Updated August 28, 2020, 11:32 AM)
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Hawaii Community Correctional Center. Photo by Dave Smith.

Twenty-four petty misdemeanor and misdemeanor prisoners from Hawai‘i Community Correctional Center were released as part of a Hawai‘i Supreme Court (HSC) order issued to avoid a COVID-19 outbreak in the facility.

On Friday, the Public Safety Department (PSD) confirmed 14 prisoners were released on Aug. 25 and another 10 on Aug. 26. First Deputy Prosecutor Dale Ross, with Hawai‘i County Office of the Prosecuting Attorney, said she anticipates more releases in the coming days.

On Aug. 25, Ross said the prosecutor’s office filed 165 memos against the release of 93 felony offenders — 75 from Hilo and 18 from Kona. Many of the inmates have multiple cases and a memo was filed for each one. The decision on who is released now lies with 3rd Circuit Court judges.

As inmates are released, Ross encouraged victims to sign up for Hawai‘i Statewide Automated Victim Information and Notification (SAVIN).

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HSC filed an order on Aug. 24 mandating all pretrial petty misdemeanor and misdemeanor prisoners be released from facilities statewide in an effort to avoid an outbreak of COVID-19 after a cluster was identified at O‘ahu Community Correctional Center earlier this month. As of Aug. 27, PSD reported 253 OCCC inmates and 53 staff had been diagnosed with the virus.

The order also required PSD to provide a list of felony inmates to the prosecutor’s office and the Office of the Public Defender to determine who might also be eligible for release.

Ross said those looked at for release include felony probation violators, pretrial felons and sentenced felons, some of who were being held because their surety was discharged, some of who are accused or have been found guilty of serious drug offenses and in possession of illegal firearms and are repeat offenders.

According to the HSC order, inmates convicted for sexual assault or attempted sexual assault don’t qualify for release. Anyone charged with the following crimes also does not qualify for release: abuse of family or household members, violation of a temporary restraining order, violation of an order for protection, violation of a restraining order or injunction, any other crime in family court, first- or second-degree burglary, first- or second-degree robbery, and first- or second-degree unauthorized entry in a dwelling.

HSC filed an additional order on Aug. 27 involving individuals serving intermittent sentences. The custodial portion of such defendants’ intermittent sentences shall be suspended while Gov. David Ige’s Emergency Proclamations for COVID-19 remain in effect, or alternatively, the sentences may be deemed satisfied at the discretion of the sentencing judge.

The trial courts are discouraged from imposing intermittent sentences while Ige’s Emergency Proclamations remain in effect. Those not eligible for release under HSC’s recent order include: felony offenses undergoing a mental health evaluation, including sexual assault; and violation of interstate or neighbor-island quarantine travel mandates.

Ann Datta, supervisor over the OPD Kona office, appreciated the work of Hawai‘i’s top court to address this problem. She also expressed concern over a larger crisis looming if inmates weren’t released.

As of Friday, Hawai‘i County Civil Defense reported 10 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the active number of infections on the Big Island to 95. Fifteen people are currently hospitalized with many of the cases concentrated in Hilo

“The bigger threat is overwhelming Hilo Medical Center if (COVID-19) spreads like wildlife in the jail, like it did on O‘ahu,” Datta said. “People may be prevented health care if it’s overloaded.”

The Aug. 24 HSC order requires those released to appear in court on Dec. 1, 2020, at 1:30 p.m.

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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