As Hawaii judges consider the possible release of several hundred people from the state’s overcrowded correctional facilities, Honolulu City Council members are speaking out in unison against the idea.

In a letter sent on Wednesday to Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald, all nine council members expressed concern that “a mass-release of inmates could impact the already limited resources currently available.”

“Anyone released that does not already have access to housing or the other support services necessary to navigate this time may be put at a greater health risk and/or further endanger the community,”  the members wrote. “As such, we believe that Honolulu’s departments and law enforcement should be directly engaged and consulted in any process involving the mass-release of inmates.”

Honolulu City Council Chair Ikaika Anderson Bill 89 85.
All nine council members, led by Honolulu City Council Chair Ikaika Anderson, wrote in opposition to inmate releases. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

It remains unclear when and how many inmates will be released, if at all.

Earlier this week, the state public defender’s office provided the Supreme Court a list of 426 inmates who could be let go. The list includes 137 inmates from the Oahu Community Correctional Center, 44 from Kauai, 45 from Maui, 197 from Hilo, and three from Oahu’s facility for women.

The identities and criminal charges for those people has not been announced. As of late February, the most recent data publicly available, Hawaii had custody of over 1,000 pretrial detainees – people who have not been convicted of a crime. That includes people who would be in the community if they could afford bail.

The council’s letter echoes comments made on Tuesday by Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

“Do not take another step and release any prisoners until you talk to our first responders on the island of Oahu,” he said.

The mayor also stated that prison “could actually be the safest place in terms of COVID-19” – a statement that conflicts with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance and the experience of prisons nationwide that are being devastated by the coronavirus.

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