The 21-year-old Hawaii inmate who died Aug. 6 at a for-profit prison in Eloy, Arizona, was strangled, according to the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner.

Jay Romero, an investigator at the medical examiner’s office, said the death of Jonathan Namauleg, of Maui, has been ruled as homicide.

Jonathan Namauleg

Jonathan Namauleg

Hawaii Department of Public Safety

According to an Aug. 7 statement from the Hawaii Department of Public Safety, Namauleg was found unconscious on the floor of his cell at the Saguaro Correctional Center, a prison owned and operated by Corrections Corporation of America — which housed more than a quarter of Hawaii’s 5,763 total inmates, as of Aug. 3, at a daily rate of $68.77 per inmate.

Namauleg’s cellmate was Jason McCormick, who is serving a life sentence with the possibility of parole for the second-degree murder of Robert Henderson, who was a visiting professor at the University of Hawaii. According to media reports, McCormick, 41, killed the professor with a chokehold in a Waikiki apartment in 1996.

Toni Schwartz, public safety spokeswoman, said McCormick has been removed from the general population and is now housed alone.

The Eloy Police Department, which is investigating Namauleg’s death, did not respond to Civil Beat’s request for comment.

Schwartz said Hawaii investigators who have been dispatched to Arizona are still conducting their investigation.

Namauleg, who was serving a three-year sentence for third-degree arson, was being housed at Saguaro — even though Schwartz said the department’s usual preference is to send prisoners who are serving long sentences there.

“There are other things besides sentence length that can be taken into consideration when determining placement, including classification level and institutional behavior,” Schwartz said.

Jason McCormick

Jason McCormick

Hawaii Department of Public Safety

Namauleg was classified by CCA as a “high-custody” inmate.

Steven Owen, managing director of communications at CCA, said his company uses “an objective-based classification system” to determine inmates’ custody level at Saguaro.

“Several factors can go into determining an inmate’s custody level, including … criminal history and institutional behavior. The basic custody levels are low-, moderate- and high-custody,” Owen said.

Schwartz said the specific factors that played into Namauleg’s classification are “protected and cannot be released due to the ongoing criminal investigation.”

McCormick was classified as a “medium-custody” inmate.

Owen did not reply to a question about how often inmates with different classifications are housed in the same cell.

Schwartz said prisons in Hawaii employ a different classification system that separates inmates into maximum, medium, minimum and community levels — as well as a “closed” classification for inmates requiring special needs.

In facilities housing inmates with multiple classifications, two inmates with different custody levels can be paired in a cell “on a case-by-case basis,” Schwartz said.

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