Hawaii Supreme Court Orders Inmates Released Due To Virus

Aug 20, 2020

HONOLULU (AP) — The Hawaii Supreme Court ordered the temporary release of some detainees and inmates at the Oahu Community Correctional Center because of the coronavirus.

A COVID-19 outbreak has infected more than 200 people at the crowded jail and the court ordered the release over concerns there was not enough room to properly socially distance and stop the virus from spreading.

The court issued the decision Sunday to the state Department of Public Safety in response to a petition filed by the Office of the Public Defender.

The high court's order requires all pretrial detainees charged with low-level crimes and those serving time for the same crimes to be temporarily released without a hearing before a judge.

"This court recognizes the impact of COVID-19 on Hawaii's community correctional centers and facilities and the urgency by which suitable yet balanced action is required," the order said.

There are exceptions for detainees accused of domestic violence or violating restraining orders or protective orders. Those who have tested positive for the virus or are awaiting a test or exhibiting symptoms are also excluded.

The Supreme Court on Monday issued another order for the release of inmates serving sentences of 18 months or less as a condition of a felony deferral or probation, or pretrial detainees charged with a felony.
Exceptions include those convicted or accused of sex assault or attempted sex assault, burglary, robbery, felony domestic abuse and unauthorized entry to a dwelling.

Defense attorney Myles Breiner called the order "a mediocre start."

"This will lessen the population at OCCC somewhat, but the vast majority are there on felony and domestic violence cases," Breiner said. "I'd be surprised if 50 people qualified. If 100 people qualified, it would be amazing."

The Hawaii State Judiciary and the public safety department did not immediately say how many of the Oahu inmates would qualify for the conditional release.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.