Inmates released amid COVID-19 pandemic

Coronavirus

Since the beginning of March, the population in the state’s correctional facilities has decreased by than 800 inmates, some of them getting an early release because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ever since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, public defenders worried overcrowding at state jails could create a hot spot for the virus.

Honolulu Deputy Public Defender, Jacquelyn Esser said their office prepared a list with more than 400 low-risk and non-violent offenders for the Hawaii Supreme court to rule on their release.

“A cell that’s made for one person, we have three people or four people, with some people sleeping on the floor,” Esser said. “The people on that list are categorically denied if they have any type of assault charge, sexual assault charge, felony, burglary, unauthorized entering into a dwelling.”

However, Honolulu Acting Prosecutor Dwight Nadamoto said inmates outside the public defender’s list with more serious crimes are also being let out.

He gave the example of Advil Farata, back in September he was sentenced to a year in prison after pleading no contest to stealing from a blind man. He was granted early release two weeks ago after a public defender cited the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in jail.

Nadamoto said, “I think it is time to, at the very least, step back to see where we are and not rush to let these people out.”

Nadamoto adds that some inmates were released without an address verification.

He said, “If they are wandering the streets they quite possibly don’t have a job and any money, a lot of them are drug addicts, so in order to exist they will probably start committing more crimes.”

There has not been a confirmed case of COVID-19 in any of the state’s jails, meanwhile, Esser said public defenders will continue to abide by the Hawaii Supreme Court order and work to keep reducing the jail population.

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