State admits work furlough walkaways should have been reported sooner

Local News

An oversight. That’s why state officials say they did not instantly alert the public about two missing work furlough inmates.

On Sunday, police and state sheriffs announced they were looking for Cheryl Nihoa and Jorelyn Pacariem, both missing from the Women’s Community Correctional Center in Kailua.

Nihoa has been out since April 7 and Pacariem since March 19.

“In this case, it was an oversight. It’s not something that we do on purpose, but in this case it was an oversight and it is something that, moving forward, we have decided we will always put our work furlough walkaways out there in a public notice,” said state Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Toni Schwartz. “It should have been reported sooner.”

But for previous escapees, it was a different story, at least according to one lawmaker.

“We had four or five men, over the course of a week or two, and we almost knew within 24 or 48 hours that these individuals were missing,” said Sen. Will Espero, D-Ewa Beach, Ewa by Gentry, Iroquois Point, Senate public safety committee chair.

“By and large they are drug offenders or non-violent offenders, but I still think it’s the responsibility of the department to make a notification,” said Rep. Gregg Takayama, D-Pearl City, Waimalu, Pacific Palisades, House public safety committee chair.

The inmates who recently escaped are part of the work furlough program, which allows them to be out in the public. The state says the program is very successful.

“There are a few bad apples who will make the rest of them look bad, unfortunately,” Schwartz said.

In 2012, there were 15 walkaways from this program, who were basically inmates who didn’t return. In 2013, there were 27 walkaways and in 2014, 47.

The state points out the furlough program was expanded over those two years. So far this year, there have been 15 inmates who have escaped.

So why is this happening and can the escapes be prevented?

Espero plans to hold a public informational hearing at the State Capitol next month and hopes to get answers from the state.

“It is a very successful program, but we also want to find out about some of these issues and problems that have been occurring just within the last few months,” he said.

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