Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 8 Primary Election, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions about where they stand on various issues and what their priorities will be if elected.

The following came from Kelden Waltjen, candidate for Hawaii County prosecutor. The other candidates are Jared Auna and Christopher Bridges.

Go to Civil Beat’s Elections Guide for general information, and check out other candidates on the Primary Election Ballot.

Candidate for Hawaii County Prosecutor

Kelden Waltjen
Party Nonpartisan
Age 33
Occupation Hawaii County deputy prosecuting attorney
Residence Hilo


Community organizations/prior offices held

East Hawaii director, Hawaii State Bar Association Young Lawyers Division; law clerk to Associate Justice Richard W. Pollack at First Circuit Court and Hawaii Supreme Court.

1. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your office? What will you do about it?

I believe that restoring public trust in the criminal justice system is the most pressing issue facing the Prosecutor’s Office.  I plan to increase transparency, reexamine our current policies and procedures, and promote more coordination, training and response from our office and law enforcement. I will also enhance the lines of communication between law enforcement and our community, and work with leaders and our community to address local concerns for positive change.

In my time as a prosecutor, I have developed strong relationships with the prosecutors and staff in our office, as well as law enforcement agencies on the county, state and federal levels. I am assigned to the Special Enforcement Unit, where I handle cases involving violent and dangerous crimes, narcotics distribution, property and illegal firearms offenses, and wanted individuals.

Hawaii County has many issues that we need to continue to work on, including the influx of dangerous narcotics (such as methamphetamine, heroin and fentanyl), property crimes, drug and alcohol impaired driving, reports of missing children, cold cases, and crimes committed by serious and repeat offenders. If elected, I will continue to fight for justice, enhance public safety, improve transparency, and build public trust in our criminal justice system.

2. Jails and prisons are overcrowded and Hawaii’s correctional facilities are in poor physical condition. What would you do to reduce overcrowding in the jails and prisons?

Hawaii County needs better facilities for treatment, education, rehabilitation and housing for inmates. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of coming together to discuss long-term solutions for the overcrowding of our jails and prisons.

As part of my administration, I plan to reduce the overcrowding in our correctional facilities by focusing on the root causes of crime, such as mental health, substance addiction, and reaching at-risk youth and disadvantaged communities. Incarceration is effective and appropriate in certain circumstances, including serious and violent offenses and for those that have a long and repeated history of crime, where court-mandated supervision, treatment, and/or rehabilitation have not been effective.

However, the initial response to crime should be through a combination of prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, education and reintegration. I believe that by applying a multifaceted approach in identifying and seeking stiffer penalties for serious, violent and repeat offenders, promoting rehabilitation and treatment for those suffering from addiction and mental illness, and utilizing available resources toward prevention and education, we can eventually decrease the number of persons incarcerated in Hawaii’s correctional facilities.

3. Because of COVID-19, many of Hawaii’s inmates were released so as to reduce the risk of infection. Where do you stand on this issue?

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a collaborative effort by various government agencies, including the State Judiciary, the Hawaii County Police Department, the Prosecutor’s Office, the Public Defender’s office, Department of Public Safety, and the Special Master to reduce the inmate population in compliance with the Hawaii Supreme Court’s orders. I recognize that the release of inmates was done for the safety of not only the inmates, but for the corrections officers and all employees in our correctional facilities.

As part of the process, the Hawaii Supreme Court allowed defense counsel to submit motions for release and for the Prosecutor’s Office to file oppositions. I objected to releasing those inmates who I believed posed a danger to the community or were likely to reoffend. In certain cases, inmates were granted release over our objections, only to reoffend.

While I understand the reasons and necessity for the release and respect the decisions of our courts, as a prosecutor, it was difficult seeing offenders who were given due process and justly sentenced being released early. It was an especially anxious time for members in our community and victims of crime.  The necessity of balancing the safety of our community with the safety of those at our correctional facilities needs to be conducted on a case-by-case basis.

4. The recent police killings of black people in police custody have caused widespread racial unrest throughout the country. What would you do to strengthen police accountability in Hawaii including the role the prosecutor’s office plays in police use-of-force cases?

As a prosecutor, my duties are to seek justice, protect the public interest and uphold the rule of law. The prosecutor must ensure the fair and equal administration of the law to all persons, regardless of factors such as race, skin color, social status or occupation.

I believe that our law enforcement agencies need to work together to review the current police use-of-force policies and procedures, determine the necessary changes, and strengthen accountability. Continued collaboration and training by the Prosecutor’s Office for police officers can also improve practices between both agencies.

The Hawaii County Prosecutor’s Office is comprised of three offices across the island. We have already taken steps to ensure that any police misconduct case is reviewed impartially. As a general matter, if a police misconduct case occurs in one area of Hawaii island, we refer the case to another office on the island, or if appropriate, to the attorney general and/or another county’s prosecutor’s office to avoid any potential conflict or imputed appearance of impropriety.

5. Native Hawaiians are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system. What would you do to address racism and discriminatory treatment in law enforcement?

As part-Hawaiian, I am aware of the historical inequalities and injustices that Native Hawaiians and other people of color have faced over the years. I also recognize that there are a disproportionate number of Native Hawaiians in the criminal justice system. This requires our government, including all law enforcement agencies, to come together to address the issue of racism and inequality.

We need to evaluate our guidelines and processes to provide for the fair treatment of all, including defendants, witnesses and victims. This requires awareness and education in historical inequalities and injustices within the wider justice system and a continued vigilance toward true equal application of the criminal justice system. In order to address the root causes of inequality and injustices, we also need to provide more opportunities, assistance and services for Native Hawaiians and people of color. As part of my administration, I will provide all prosecuting attorneys within the Prosecutor’s Office with continuing education and training regarding racism and implicit biases and work with them to make sure they are knowledgeable about all sentencing options, including alternatives to incarceration, such as jail diversion programs, specialty courts and restorative justice.

6. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?

I believe that the best way to serve the people of Hawaii County is to take an inclusive, community-based approach that engages all members of the community. Listening, learning and seeking community input will be an integral part of my administration.

Hawaii County is comprised of many districts with unique concerns. One of my goals is to improve the lines of communication between our office and all of our island’s communities.  As part of my administration, I plan to enhance community outreach by attending community meetings, as well as assigning deputy prosecuting attorneys to various districts across our island to ensure that each community’s concerns are heard and addressed. I believe that this will strengthen the relationship between our office and each community, improve communication and establish a direct line of contact to our office.  I also intend to utilize technology, including social media, as a means of providing more readily available information and updates to the public. This will also provide an additional method for the public to voice any questions or concerns directly to our office.

7. Gov. David Ige suspended the state laws on public records and open meetings because of COVID-19. Do you think that was appropriate? What will you do to ensure your agency’s business is conducted as openly as possible?

I understand that immediate emergency action was necessary at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic; however, our government serves the public interest and access to public records and open meetings should be made available even during times of crisis. Transparency and accountability are crucial for all government agencies.

The Prosecutor’s Office remained open throughout the COVID-19 crisis. Our dedicated staff and prosecutors continued to work on criminal cases (sometimes remotely) in order to serve our community.  Victim/witness counselors within our office were also staffed to provide services to victims and witnesses in criminal cases. I support prosecutorial transparency and believe that new policies need to be implemented to improve transparency and accountability. As prosecutor, I would utilize available resources and technology so that public access is not disrupted.

8. What other issue would you like to address or make the voters aware of?

I have served as a deputy prosecuting attorney for Hawaii County since 2012. I am not a defense attorney. I am a prosecutor. I have dedicated my life and career to being a public servant for Hawaii County.

The COVID-19 pandemic poses unprecedented challenges for our economy, including budgetary concerns for our office. The prosecutor will need to provide an efficient and effective administration of our office with limited resources. I am the most familiar with the Prosecutor’s Office’s organizational structure, policies, procedures, special programs, and I have developed strong working relationships with the prosecutors and staff. I will continue to be involved, provide support and actively work on cases. I am committed to ensuring a smooth transition for our office, enhancing public trust, and seeking justice to make Hawaii Island a safer and better place for everyone.