State lawmakers, who have been critical of inmate releases in Hawaii, want tougher reporting requirements from the Hawaii State Judiciary on those releases.

Weekly reports on who is being let out of correctional facilities are part of a new requirement lawmakers plugged in to the judiciary’s budget, which the House voted to cut by $24 million on Friday.

The inmate releases were prompted by a petition from the Office of the Public Defender as part of an effort to reduce Hawaii’s overcrowded jail populations and avoid an outbreak of COVID-19 in the population.

Public health experts and organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have said people in prison are more at risk for the virus. But the releases in Hawaii have drawn the ire of elected officials and the public.

Oahu Community Correctional Center media tour 2019 inmate walks down hall between modules.
Lawmakers concerned with the state’s release of inmates want stricter reporting requirements on those releases. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

And for the 51-member House and half of the 25-member Senate, 2020 is an election year.

The new reporting requirements in Senate Bill 3080 require the courts to report inmates’ names, release dates, correctional facility, criminal status before release, objections made to their release, a verified residence, names of the person or agency responsible for their release and their arrest record following release.

“If the judiciary is concerned about the risk and safety, they need to be more mindful and keep track of their whereabouts,” House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke told reporters Friday afternoon. “They may need to add to the health and safety of the inmates as opposed to being driven by an agenda of having prisoners released at a stressful time.”

The $24 million cut from the judiciary’s budget came from vacant positions and funding lapses, Luke said. SB 3080 will be up for a final vote by the House next week.

A letter from state Attorney General Clare Connors also has lawmakers troubled.

Connors writes that some of the inmates who have been released were arrested again for committing violent offenses. Connors goes on to say that her office has received calls from service providers for domestic violence victims that say they’ve seen an uptick in calls.

“They believe abusers are being released,” the AG writes.

Connors and three of the state’s four county prosecutors opposed the release program.

The public defender, state departments, AG and prosecutors have been working through the release process with a court appointed special master, Judge Dan Foley, who filed an interim report Friday.

The report notes that the jail population has dropped by about 832 inmates.

“This reduction in inmate population has been achieved in part by the police departments not issuing certain bench warrants, prosecutors not filing new charges for less serious offenses, and utilization of the practice of no cash bail for many who have been charged,” the report says.

The report says that, with the reduction in jail populations, the public defender’s goals have largely been met.

Foley is leading a mediation process involving prosecutors, the public defender and others and may soon have an agreement on how to proceed with releases, Foley’s report says.

The Office of the Public Defender, in a report to Foley Tuesday, argues that the low population rates must be maintained. Hawaii’s jails often operate at capacities higher than what the facilities are set up to hold.

Foley is expected to issue another report May 28.

Support Civil Beat during the season of giving.

As a small nonprofit newsroom, our mission is powered by readers like you. But did you know that less than 1% of readers donate to Civil Beat?

Give today and support local journalism that helps to inform, empower and connect.

About the Author