With the number of rearrested inmates growing, the Honolulu Police Department said it is a “threat to public safety” to release them early to stop the spread of COVID-19.
HPD reported Tuesday that more than 50 inmates out of the 300 released early have now been rearrested following a Hawaii Supreme Court decision April 15.
“It is the HPD’s position that there was no urgency or legitimate reason for early or premature release, and the releases pose a bigger threat to public safety as some of those who are released re-offend and prey on the community,” Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard said in emailed statement.
The Office of the Public Defender had asked the Hawaii Supreme Court to release hundreds of inmates convicted of or awaiting trial for nonviolent offenses to reduce crowding in jails and prisons and the chance of spreading COVID-19.
Some of those whose releases were connected to the novel coronavirus had committed crimes that were violent in nature, according to earlier reports.
Assistant Public Defender Lee Hayakawa said he has followed up with about 30 of the released inmates who were arrested again, and said over half of them failed to comply with the terms of their releases, which could mean they simply did not check in with a probation officer.
“We’re still, for the most part, living our lives unmolested by the 800 who were released. The world didn’t end,” Hayakawa said. “Yeah, you’ve got these dummies that are beating somebody up or stealing something or threatening somebody, but … nothing’s gone to hell, you know? That’s kind of our point.”
On Oahu, 866 motions by the public defender were considered, but Hayakawa said about 500-800 inmates have actually been released. Acting City Prosecutor Dwight Nadamoto said it was closer to about 300 due to multiple cases.
Even though there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 among inmates in Hawaii’s jails and prisons, Public Defender James Tabe said the releases are appropriate so long as social distancing is in place.
“Those same measures or same principles apply everywhere, including the jails and prisons,” he said. “You just can’t make an exception to practice social distancing except for jails and prisons. It’s obviously not fair to the inmates, but it’s not fair to the people who have to work there.”
Nadamoto said that many of the inmates have drug problems and were released with no residence, which makes them more likely to commit another offense.
“You call this an emergency humanitarian release? How humanitarian is that to release people where there is COVID in the environment, in the general community, and not have a place to go? What do you expect to happen?” he said.