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Hawaii legislators want weekly report on inmate releases

The state House Finance Committee wants the state Judiciary to provide the Legislature with weekly reports on the release of inmates after approximately a dozen inmates who were released during the coronavirus pandemic were accused of committing new crimes.

During a televised hearing Friday from the state Capitol, the committee voted unanimously to incorporate proposed weekly reporting requirements on the release of inmates into the Judiciary’s budget.

The recommendation now goes to the House for a final vote on Monday. It is expected to be approved and move on to the Senate.

House Speaker Rep. Scott Saiki told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that members of the House sent a letter three weeks ago to Special Master Dan Foley, who was appointed by the Hawaii Supreme Court, to conduct an independent study on overcrowding at Hawaii’s correctional facilities.

In the letter, Saiki said they requested the Judiciary stop releasing inmates due to concerns they could potentially become homeless or commit further crimes. “This was a few weeks ago. Since then we have seen that inmates are being rearrested for committing new crimes,” he said.

The proposed reporting requirements would force the Judiciary to provide a weekly report on the status of each inmate released, to include detailed information such as a verified residence, whether the inmate is homeless and whether the inmate has committed other crimes.

Foley has recommended the parties continue to work collaboratively, following the existing orders, and resolve the matter through ongoing mediation. The special master will file his next report May 28 or sooner if the parties reach an agreement.

The Department of Public Safety’s latest numbers show a decrease of 802 inmates in its jail population from March 2 to May 15.

All of the state’s jails, except for Hawaii Community Correctional Center in Hilo, are below their operational capacities. That was not the case on March 2, when they were overcrowded.

HCCC is slightly over capacity, with 243 inmates and a 225-bed capacity. Its population was reduced by 152.

DPS reports no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in its prisons and jails. Anyone with respiratory symptoms is tested for the new coronavirus. A total of 26 inmates have tested negative, including those at the Halawa prison and Saguaro Correctional Center in Arizona.

The ACLU says jails have a constant flux of detainees and guards, and because of overcrowding, lack of access to hygiene and substandard health care, jails and prisons are potential time bombs for any outbreak.

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