Lawmakers consider early releases to ease prison overcrowding

Proposed law would release some inmates to ease jail overcrowding
Published: Mar. 7, 2016 at 10:13 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 8, 2016 at 2:32 AM HST
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(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state's community correctional centers are bursting at the seams. Now, lawmakers are considering releasing some inmates early to make more space.

"I don't see any other rational way to address it at this point. Eventually we're going to get sued," said state Rep. Karl Rhoads.

Rhoads says Hawaii's already been down that road. The federal government forced the state to reduce crowding back in the 1980s, when conditions amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

The bill under consideration would allow the director of Public Safety to release both convicted and pretrial inmates who are locked up for non-violent misdemeanors. People incarcerated for domestic violence or a person with bail set at higher than $5,000 wouldn't be eligible for release.

This bill would not affect anyone currently serving time in jail.  Instead, it would only benefit folks who get locked up for certain misdemeanors after it passes.

"This is our attempt to be proactive in our situation. If we hit the point of unconstitutional overcrowding, we decide what population we as a community should be released instead of having a federal judge from high above dictating what we are going to do," said State Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda.

The Honolulu Police Department is against the bill saying, "It may serve to place more criminal offenders back out on the street to commit even more crimes."

State Rep. Cynthia Thielen agrees.

"It's not because the person's going to get counseling or be kept from committing other crimes, it's solely for overpopulation.  That's no reason to pass a bill.  To let these people back out on the street," said Thielen.

If the bill is approved by the full House and Senate it could go into effect as early as July 1.

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