Some high-profile escapes unresolved, work furlough program scrutinized

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Always Investigating previously revealed that many work furlough walkaways aren’t getting punished for escaping.

Turns out, the same trend is true for inmates who actually make a break from a higher-security facility.

Most on the Department of Public Safety’s list of escapes are work furlough walkaways, and one of those who started with a furlough getaway was later accused of a much more violent escape.

We went through the prison escape list line by line, merged it with every escape case in court and found more than 40 not prosecuted yet.

View all work furlough and prison escapes by year: 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015

One name on the court list stuck out, 2012 furlough program walkaway Ryan Jeffries-Hamar, a felon with 51 arrests and 17 convictions.

He’d been given work furlough, but decided to run away from a drug test and wasn’t arrested until a month later. That got him kicked out of furlough, and a charge of escape in the second degree.

But within months, authorities say Jeffries-Hamar teamed up fellow inmate Jarvis Higa and staged a violent breakout from Hawaii Community Correctional Center. Officials say they punched and dragged a corrections officer, stole a staffer’s car and got away.

‘It was very serious and dramatic. I knew a lot of people who lived by the jail and people who came and talked to me who lived in Hilo and people were afraid, the whole island. These guys were on the run,” said Hawaii County prosecutor Mitch Roth.

Jeffries-Hamar was convicted for escape in the first degree while Higa’s case is still dragging on years later.

Also awaiting charges: Daniel Skelton. Authorities say he crawled through the shower ceiling and out an unlocked gate at Oahu Community Correctional Center. Sheriff’s nabbed him a year ago, but Always Investigating discovered he has not yet been charged.

We checked and the attorney general’s office says the investigation is done and the case is being reviewed for possible charges.

While those cases linger on, lawmakers put the public safety department in the hot seat Tuesday to discuss changes to the work furlough program.

Officials said the higher number of escapes could be due to the hundreds of inmates that just got added to the program. Many more are qualified, but not yet on furlough.

“We have a current wait list of inmates who are technically eligible to participate but for a lack of that type of bed space, that wait list is currently at 158,” said public safety director Nolan Espinda.

There were some ideas to reduce that backlog, like contracting out private facilities to house and monitor more work furlough inmates.

As for cutting back on the walkaways, there were talks to get funding for electronic monitoring, cell phones that inmates can use to check in while at work and a mentorship program where current inmates can work with furlough parolees.

One lawmaker even suggested the internal punishments are too harsh.

“Just for being late, for three days I’m late, I can ban you from work furlough for five to eight years? You made that comment,” Sen. Will Espero, vice chair of the Senate public safety committee, said to DPS director Nolan Espinda.

“That’s not a comment. It’s a fact,” he replied.

“I know. It seems a little harsh to me,” Espero said.

“It may seem a little harsh, but there are parameters you live by in a program and you cannot be deviating and participating in inappropriate behavior and then expect us to continue to give you chance after chance,” Espinda responded.

That furlough chance has been taken away from the 129 who have escaped and walked away over the past three years, 22 so far this year.

“I’m sorry if I have little compassion for the 22 people who deviate, but my concern is for the 420 people who are participating and I want them to succeed,” Espinda said.

Always Investigating sat down with Dave, a work furlough graduate whose prison term is now done. He said thousands of others like him did furlough right.

“I got a chance for me to get on my feet, a job, save money. I got a moped now. It got me the opportunity to straighten out my life,” he said.

“There are a lot of rules in work furlough. Did you sign an agreement?” Always Investigating asked.

“Yes, I did,” he replied. “Definitely took it seriously.”

“What did you think would happen if you broke any rules?” Always Investigating asked.

“That I would be going back to Halawa (Correctional Facility) and maybe even (Saguaro Correctional Center in) Arizona,” he said. “If you don’t have this program, you’re just going to be recycling criminals.”

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