Honolulu prosecutor balks at list of inmates recommended for release

Coronavirus
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The state public defender wants to ease overcrowding at jails and prisons to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19. While the proposal is aimed at releasing non-violent criminals, inmates on the list include some violent ones.

The Hawaii Department of Public Safety says inmate population has already decreased in the past month. If the public defender’s office gets its way, hundreds more will be released before serving their time.

The state public defender put together a list of 426 inmates who he wants released to ease the overcrowding at jails and prisons, and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Honolulu’s acting prosecutor is baffled by some of the names included.

“Among those were Troy Salas and Ulysses Kim, two individuals who they want released,” said Dwight Nadamoto.

Ulysses Kim was arrested for burglary in January. He was just released from prison, and made national headlines 27 years ago after taking a news cameraman hostage. Troy Salas faces terroristic threatening charges for allegedly driving toward an HPD officer during a traffic stop.

“Those people, they obviously should not be released,” said Nadamoto.

State Public Defender James Tabe says Salas and Kim were included in the list originally submitted by the Department of Public Safety. But not included in the list turned in by Tabe. Although court records show Tabe’s office filed separate motions to have Salas and Kim released because of COVID-19. Tabe admits such high profile inmates probably won’t be released, but he says the defense attorneys owe it to their clients to try.

“They’re just doing their jobs and I’m sure the judges have weighed the pros and cons of release,” said Tabe.

He says COVID-19 could spread rapidly in prisons which has already happened in other states. And if that happens here, the healthcare system can get overwhelmed, and everyone suffers.

“The risk of an outbreak is high if the prisons remain overcrowded. This outbreak will tax the system and will be counter to the idea of flattening the curve,” said Tabe.

The Department of Public Safety says the prison population was 2,189 last month and 1,750 Thursday, a decrease of 439. The state says this is due to efforts by the state and police to limit the number of people admitted into jails. The Hawaii Supreme Court has appointed retired judge Daniel Foley to work with prosecutors and public defenders to make recommendations to the high court, which will then make the final decision on who will be released.

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