We, as members of the faith community, write to express our strong support and compassion for all members of our communities across Hawaii Nei during these uncertain times.

The novel coronavirus – COVID-19 — is a serious public health crisis that requires everyone’s kokua if we are to paddle our canoe forward through these rocky shoals.

We express our concern for our brothers and sisters who are living and working in Hawaii’s jails and prisons.

Dr. Pablo Stewart is a licensed clinician who trains psychiatric residents at John A. Burns School of Medicine to provide psychiatric care to people detained at Oahu Community Correctional Center.

His deep concerns were articulated in an April 8 letter to the Hawaii Correctional Oversight Commission about what he has observed working at OCCC four times a week.

OCCC in Kalihi. The state has rightly begun to release nonviolent offenders from prisons and jails because of the threat of COVID-19. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

He wrote:

“Everyone is put at risk by the failure to take meaningful action in Hawaii’s correctional facilities. It goes without saying that people detained or incarcerated will suffer most.

“And within those populations, given that an estimate 32% of people in prisons and 40% of people in jail report having at least one disability, they will be particularly susceptible to COVID-19. For example, people with mental health conditions will only see their conditions exacerbated by isolation and quarantine.

“And once an outbreak breaks out of the jail walls — as will be inevitable given the high daily rate of ‘churn’ in and out of correctional facilities — it will overwhelm hospitals and everyone’s health will suffer.”

After the State Public Defender filed motions to release certain people to reduce the populations of our jails and correctional facilities to avoid an outbreak and potential community spread, the Hawaii Supreme Court appointed retired Judge Daniel Foley as the special master to make recommendations and oversee the process.

Judge Foley submitted his report with recommendations to the Hawaii Supreme Court on April 9, and on April 15 the court ordered that “efforts shall be undertaken to reduce the inmate population of correctional centers and facilities to design capacity.”

An example is Oahu’s jail that currently imprisons 953 men and women; however, the design capacity for OCCC is actually 628 men and women.

Tyler Winkelman, co-director of the Health, Homelessness, and Criminal Justice Lab at the Hennepin Healthcare Research Institute in Minneapolis said, “We know the coronavirus spreads quickly in closed spaces, like cruise ships, nursing homes — and jails and prisons.”

Many people who are incarcerated also have chronic conditions, like diabetes or HIV, which makes them vulnerable to severe forms of COVID-19.

Widespread Misconceptions

Many people believe that Hawaii’s jails and prisons are filled with extremely dangerous and violent prisoners, but that is a misconception.

The Department of Public Safety’s own data from July 2018 shows that the vast majority (72%) are incarcerated for relatively low-level offenses, i.e., class C felonies or below (misdemeanors, petty misdemeanors, technical offenses, or violations).

Let’s all remember that we are Hawaii.

Only 28% are serving sentences for the more serious class A and B felonies, and not all of the A and B felonies are for violent crimes, many are for drug offenses. Additionally, 53% of Hawaii prisoners are classified as minimum or community custody inmates, according to the HCR 85 Correctional Reform Task Force 2019.

On April 2, Business Insider reported: In Rikers Island, the infection rate is just under 2.8%, which is nearly 10 times higher than the rate in New York State and 18 times higher than the rate in Italy.

This is the time for us all to assert our collective humanity. Every soul in Hawaii nei, no matter where they live, is important for our survival.

In the spirit of Aloha, let’s all remember that we are Hawaii. We care for and about each other.

Together, we will get through this.

With the support of the Right Reverend Robert L. Fitzpatrick, Bishop Diocesan, the Episcopal Diocese of Hawaii and Bishop-in-Charge, the Episcopal Church in Micronesia; the Rev. Raymond Woo, Vicar, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Honolulu; the Rev. David J. Gierlach, SCP, Rector, St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church; the Rev. Dr. George Clifford, Priest Associate, Parish of St. Clements; the Rev. Cn. Randolph V.N. Albano, Vicar, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Oahu. the Rev. Prof. Gregory Johnson, The Episcopal Diocese of Hawaii; the Rev. John S. Lunn, Vicar, Grace Episcopal Church, Hoolehua, Molokai; the Rev. Katlin E. McCallister, Priest-in-Charge, Church of the Holy Apostles, Hilo; the Rev. Dcn. Cris South, Deacon, ehe Episcopal Diocese of Hawaii; the Rev. Mark Kekaileonui Haworth, Missioner, Halau Waa Episcopal; the Rev. Dale C. Hathaway, Priest, The Episcopal Diocese of Hawaii; the Rev. Canon Brian J. Grieves, Priest, the Episcopal Diocese of Hawaii; the Rev. Charles Alex Browning II, Priest-in-Charge, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Honolulu; the Rev. Heather L. Patton-Graham, Priest, the Episcopal Diocese of Hawaii; the Rev. Canon Alexander Graham, Canon for Congregational Life and Leadership, the Episcopal Diocese of Hawaii; the Rev. Dr. Philip J. Paradine, Priest, the Episcopal Diocese of Hawaii; the Rev. David “Kawika” Jackson, Priest-in-Charge and Head-of-School, All Saint’s Church and Preschool, Kapaa; Kahu Rennie Mau, Moderator Hawaii PAAM (Pacific Islander and Asian American Ministries, United Church of Christ); the Reverend Deborah Ball, Church of the Crossroads, United Church of Christ; the Rev. Kyle Ann Lovett, United Church of Christ; the Rev. Barbara Grace Ripple, United Methodist Church District Superintendent; the Reverend Samuel Cox, United Methodist Church; the Rev. David Baumgart Turner, Pastor, Church of the Crossroads; he Rev. Dr. John R. Heidel, United Church of Christ (retired); the Rev. Jeffrey M. Lilley, Lutheran Church of Honolulu; the Rev. Danette Kong, retired, Hawaii Conference of the United Church of Christ; and Kent Kaahanui, Ke Ola Mamo.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a current photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

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