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City prosecutor wants COVID-era policy changed so judges can jail misdemeanor offenders

Updated: Mar. 19, 2021 at 6:11 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - City Prosecutor Steve Alm wants to restore some of the power Oahu judges had taken away during the pandemic.

He said Thursday that courts should be given back the authority to lock up misdemeanor offenders.

But critics argue the crime crackdown isn’t necessary and will only put detainees at risk.

For the past seven months, the COVID-era policy has allowed many criminals arrested for misdemeanor crimes to go free within hours of their arrest.

Alm said the across-the-board change simply doesn’t make sense.

“When there’s no consequences for misbehavior, you get more misbehavior,” he said.

The prosecutor has sent a motion to the state Supreme Court, urging it to change a mandate issued last August that was intended to ease jail overcrowding during the height of the pandemic.

“They were ordering district court judges not to set bail for most misdemeanors,” said Alm.

”They carved out exceptions for family abuse of a household member, for temporary restraining orders, for protective orders. But that was about it.”

The prosecutor’s action was initiated after a deputy prosecutor was allegedly groped by a man near a Honolulu courthouse. The suspect, Randy Jacob, has a lengthy arrest record.

After the incident on Tuesday, Alm issued a warning to the public about Jacob. The 37-year-old was arrested six times this month for theft, harassment and four counts of fourth-degree sex assault.

“Mr. Jacob was arrested, went to court and was released. And then a couple days later he was released again,” Alm said. “That tells us he’s not afraid of the law. He’s not going to follow the law.

“Pre-COVID we would have asked for bail to be set and that might’ve altered his behavior.”

Joshua Wisch, head of the Hawaii chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, found out about the motion late Thursday. He said bringing back the old system isn’t a solution.

“If you require cash bail for all of these lower level offenses, all that means is you’re going to be detaining people simply because they do not have enough money,” he said. “While the people who do have money are still going to be able to get out of jail.”

He argues Hawaii’s prison and jail system is not doing enough to keep inmates safe.

“Our jails and prisons have been historically and wildly overcrowded,” said Wisch.

“And since the pandemic began more than 1,900 people in PSD custody have tested positive for COVID and nine of them have died.”

Alm says he hopeful the Hawaii Supreme Court could come back with a ruling as early as next week.

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