LIHU‘E — Kaua‘i County Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar said the county is taking a conscientious approach to the spread of COVID-19 in local correctional facilities.
“The county does not control which inmates are released,” Kollar said. “That will be determined by our Circuit Court judges. We will be objecting to the release of some incarcerated people who we feel can’t be safely managed in the community.”
The County of Kaua‘i continues to make sure there is not a sudden surge of COVID-19 cases, like that in the O’ahu Community Correctional Center (OCCC).
“We believe that maintaining the population at the Kaua’i Community Correctional Center (KCCC) at a level that allows for proper isolation, hygiene, and social distancing is the best way for our office to do its part in protecting the employees at the facility,” Kollar said. “Beyond that, it is up to the Department of Public Safety to protect its employees with appropriate guidelines and (personal protective equipment).”
State Sen. Clarence Nishihara criticized Gov. David Ige’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak in OCCC at a Tuesday press conference.
“It seemed like someone dropped the ball from the senior administration, and in this case, the Governor’s office,” Nishihara said. “The Governor’s office is not recommending to the department they should start testing, and not just for one or two, but the whole group.”
As of Tuesday, the Department of Public Safety reported 243 inmates and 57 staff members at OCCC tested positive for the coronavirus. KCCC has recorded zero cases, with only eight inmates tested.
Nishihara was adamant that the spread of COVID-19 is a safety issue for everyone that resides in and works at the correctional facilities.
The Office of the Public Defender filed a petition on August 12, which seeks a reduction in the inmate population at the state’s correctional centers and facilities to mitigate the harm that may be done to inmates, workers and members of the community for lower-risk offenders.
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.
Some exceptions for detainees accused of domestic violence or violating restraining orders or protective orders and those who have tested positive for the virus or are awaiting a test or exhibiting symptoms will be excluded.
“The guards themselves are very fearful for their lives, their family’s lives, as well as (the safety) of the inmates because they don’t feel they have received the proper care,” Nishihara said Tuesday.
Nishihara expressed concern for the lack of accessibility to personal protective equipment for correctional facility employees and inmates.
“It is pretty clear from what I’ve been told, and not from the director, that they aren’t receiving the proper face masks,” Nishihara said. “They were told they couldn’t use N-95s, and they have to interact with inmates that have tested positive.”
Nishihara mentioned efforts to hold a public information briefing to keep the public informed about protocols, laws, and state efforts to control the virus’s spread.
“The public is certainly interested in knowing more information, but they aren’t getting much,” Nishihara said. “I think people want to have more information.”
Nishihara claims the state has the necessary funding to do the essential testing it received through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
“I would hope that we can get more funding, and we certainly have the funds through the CARES Act, but the Governor has released very little of it,” Nishihara said. “They’ve only released about 40%, and I am not sure what the Governor is waiting for.”
Jason Blasco, reporter, can be reached at 245-0437 or firstname.lastname@example.org.