Hawaii jail population drops significantly after inmates released due to coronavirus

(Image: Hawaii News Now/file)
(Image: Hawaii News Now/file)
Published: May. 11, 2020 at 4:30 AM HST
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HILO, Hawaii (AP) — Hawaii has significantly reduced its inmate population in response to the coronavirus pandemic. But officials were not immediately available to provide a list of inmates who were released under the state Supreme Court order.

As of last week, the statewide jail and prison population was down 832 inmates from March 2, The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported Sunday.

The Hawaii Supreme Court ordered all jails and prisons within the state to reduce inmate populations to the facilities’ design capacity.

The order to reduce correctional facility populations was meant to promote social distancing and prevent a virus outbreak within the state’s overcrowded prisons and jails.

The Hawaii Community Correctional Center in Hilo reduced its population by 165 inmates from the 395 who were incarcerated March 2, but the population was still 28 more than its design capacity of 206 inmates.

The state Department of Public Safety and Hawaii Judiciary both were unable to provide lists of inmates released from the Hawaii Community Correctional Center in a response to a Tribune-Herald request.

Hawaii County Prosecutor Mitch Roth said his office is aware of the motions filed and inmates released because of those motions, although there is not an official list.

The Office of the Public Defender, which filed the lawsuit that prompted the Supreme Court order, also did not have a list of inmates released because of coronavirus concerns.

“The office has not kept any official statistics on how many motions were filed and how many (inmates) were released. Nor did we have an official list of inmates who were granted or denied release,” Public Defender James Tabe said, adding that the effort to collect the information was hampered by staff being forced to work from home.

“Judges have the final determination as to who is released and who is not released,” Tabe said. “The Supreme Court ordered that judges should not release any inmate who poses a significant risk to the safety of the inmate or the safety of the public.”

No inmate in a Hawaii jail or prison had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Thursday, public safety department spokeswoman Toni Schwartz said.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death. The vast majority of people recover.

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