Jail populations decline statewide, in part due to coronavirus

Published: Apr. 10, 2020 at 7:18 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii’s jail inmate population is on the way down, but not because of a mass release that had been requested by the state Office of the Public Defender.

Instead, it’s because fewer people are getting arrested.

Public defenders had gone to court, seeking an emergency inmate release to reduce the spread of the coronavirus behind bars.

“It’s not that anybody who’s been incarcerated was released in response to COVID,” said stae Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda. “What it is, is that less and less people are being brought in because of the activities of the police department, the prosecutors and the public defenders.”

Espinda said the jail population has dropped by more than 500 inmates between March 2 and April 8.

The biggest decrease came at the Oahu Community Correctional Center, where the population declined from 1,201 to 916 during that time. That also brought OCCC 48 inmates below its operational capacity.

The Kauai Community Correctional Center also is under capacity. It’s the only facility that has released certain pre-trial detainees on supervised release.

Espinda also said the federal detention center is also starting to house Hawaii inmates.

“We have 94 inmates at the federal detention center,” he said. "We got good news that effective Monday, they will be accepting up to 100 more.

As for the pandemic, Espinda said inmates are now making face shields for staff and fellow inmates.

The Honolulu Police Department is also looking at using federal CARES Act money to isolate anyone who is sick.

“We’re going to be looking at retrofitting our cellblocks so that we will be able to hold any infectious person, regardless of whether it’s COVID, the flu, hepatitis, TB,” said Police Chief Susan Ballard.

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