The state Supreme Court yesterday added non-violent felony defendants to the list of inmates eligible for release. The presiding judge in each case has until Monday to make a decision.
The court earlier gave the state until tomorrow to release two dozen detainees facing misdemeanor and petty misdemeaor charges from an overcrowded Oʻahu jail, where a COVID-19 outbreak has infected more than 200 people.
The court is ordering the release of certain inmates from the Oʻahu Community Correctional Center over concerns that there wasn’t enough room in the facility to properly socially distance and stop the virus from spreading.
As of yesterday, over 200 OCCC inmates and adult corrections officers have tested positive.
The high court wants all pre-trial detainees charged with low-level crimes and those serving time for the same crimes to be temporarily released without a hearing before a judge.
Kat Brady, a prison reform advocate and coordinator of the Community Alliance on Prisons, was cautiously optimistic about the expected releases.
"It’s not enough but it’s a start and I appreciate the Supreme Court’s quick start," she said. "They get it, they see that this is a pandemic and that we’ve gotta do everything that we possibly can at this point. We’re talking about people’s lives here.
"The one thing that I’ve been hearing from the inside and from families outside, one particular phrase – please don’t let me die in here."
So far, 181 inmates and 30 staff at OCCC have tested positive for COVID-19. The state Public Safety department expects that number to rise as mass testing continues.
As of Sunday, nearly half of the 968 inmates at OCCC have been tested. Positive cases of COVID-19 have also popped up at the Hālawa Correctional Facility as well as the women’s prison in Waimānalo.