Gov. David Ige today sent a letter to President Trump asking if the Federal Detention Center near Daniel K. Inouye International Airport can be used to temporarily house state inmates to ease the overcrowding situation in state corrections facilities in the face of the new coronavirus outbreak.
“The inmates we seek to transfer are primarily jail inmates charged with, or convicted of, crimes against persons, domestic violence crimes or violations of Temporary Restraining Orders and Protective Orders,” Ige wrote. “The transfers would of course be temporary and on a space-available basis.”
The state already has a standing contract to temporarily house inmates at the FDC. Ige, however, said “we were informed that the FDC is not accepting inmate transfers at the present time” despite not being at capacity.
The state Office of the Public Defender has asked the Hawaii Supreme Court to allow certain inmates, primarily in state jails rather than prisons, to be released. No cases had been reported in Hawaii’s correctional facilities as of Wednesday, but Public Defender James Tabe and inmate advocates warn it might just be matter of time. Not only could the virus spread quickly among inmate, but also to corrections officers and other employees who could then carry COVID-19 to their homes.
Attorney General Clare E. Connors and three of the state’s four county prosecutors have raised strong concerns about who can be released and under what conditions, citing public safety concerns.
The court on Thursday appointed retired Intermediate Court of Appeals Judge Daniel Foley to be the independent special master who will weigh the arguments and make a recommendation to the justices by Wednesday.