HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - State lawmakers say the courts have done enough to reduce jail overcrowding amid COVID-19 fears — and they want the Hawaii Paroling Authority to delay another large wave of releases that’s slated to happen in the next few weeks.
More than 800 inmates and defendants have already freed by courts or diverted by law enforcement, according to a report by Special Master Daniel Foley, appointed by the state Supreme Court to assist with the issue of overcrowding.
In recent days, there have been growing concerns about the releases, with homeless service providers say many of those let go early have no transition plan and have ended up on the streets.
Law enforcement also publicly raised concerns, noting that a few dozen were arrested again within days for various reasons, including violating terms of their release or re-offending.
This past Sunday, four recently released inmates were allegedly caught in a stolen car: The accused driver, Bowen Bagio, 20, Christin Barcinas-Cruz, 20, Herbert Viloria-Pauole, 23, Vagn Rauch, 35.
Previous charges included auto theft, resisting arrest, burglary and charges for gun and drug crimes.
The Hawaii Paroling Authority has identified more than 700 prisoners who can be released because of the pandemic and lawmakers say these include violent offenders and sex offenders.
“This get out of jail free card should never have been issued," said state Rep. Gene Ward. "When people break the law they should serve their time.”
State Sen. Clarence Nishihara, who is chair of the Public Safety Committee, added that the paroling authority needs to take more precautions.
“It’s not just the safety of the inmates relative to (COVID-19) but at what expense to the public safety," he said.
Nishihara said the authority, for example, should ensure the prisoner has housing once released.
“We can’t just have them end up on the streets," he said.
The American Civil Liberties Union, meanwhile,said each prisoner will be given a hearing so it is not a mass exodus. ACLU attorney Wookie Kim added that those being released are near the end of their sentences anyway and "have shown and demonstrated good behavior and the ability to re-enter society.”
Kim points out that it is a small percentage that has re-offended and releases help the remaining prisoners by allowing more space for social distancing.