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OHA: Office of Hawaiian Affairs

OHA statement on Oʻahu Community Correctional Center COVID-19 outbreak

August 18, 2020

We are distressed by the large and growing number of pa‘ahao (prisoners) and staff reportedly infected by the potentially deadly COVID-19 virus at the O‘ahu Community Correctional Center (OCCC). This recent outbreak led to understandable unrest among those who are infected or under imminent threat of infection at the unacceptably overcrowded facility.  In light of the ongoing threat of COVID-19 throughout our correctional system, we urge the Governor, the Department of Public Safety (DPS), and all key decisionmakers to finally heed the calls of medical and public health professionals and community members, and take decisive, meaningful action to mitigate and prevent further COVID-19 outbreaks at OCCC, and in all correctional facilities under the State’s jurisdiction.

For the past five and a half months, the DPS paid little apparent mind to repeated calls to better protect its incarcerated individuals and public safety staff.  Throughout this time, the Hawai‘i Correctional Systems Oversight Commission, prominent medical health professionals, public health experts, corrections staff, and community members, all pled for measures to meaningfully protect against or mitigate a COVID-19 outbreak in the State’s correctional facilities.  Unfortunately, DPS rebuffed calls to reduce its unmanageable jail and prison populations, implement periodic testing throughout its facilities, and ensure sufficient hygiene and other resources for incarcerated individuals and staff. Instead, DPS only offered a plan that was clearly impossible to implement.  Recent reports and the current outbreak at OCCC have only proven that DPS has been woefully and grossly unprepared to address the threat of COVID-19 in its facilities, and protect both the pa‘ahao under its custody and care, as well as the staff in its employ.

We are relieved that the Hawai‘i Supreme Court has acted swiftly to order the release of pa‘ahao who present little to no risk to the public, but whose presence in OCCC would only place them in grave danger of becoming infected, and further contribute to the spread of COVID-19 and the exhaustion of our State’s healthcare resources.  We urge Attorney General Connors, Prosecutor Nadamoto, and Public Safety Director Espinda to work collaboratively and expeditiously to comply with the Supreme Court’s orders, ensure appropriate treatment for individuals already infected while in the state’s custody and care, and release or otherwise protect anyone, including those not covered under the orders, who tests negative and can be safely returned to the community.

We also remind the Governor that six out of our nine state-run correctional facilities remain overcrowded and are under immediate threat of similar COVID-19 outbreaks.  We urge the Governor to take urgent action to “decompress” the overcrowding in these facilities, require meaningful protective measures, and test broad samples of pa‘ahao in every facility, immediately.  Further inaction on the part of the State threatens the Native Hawaiians in itscare and employ, as well as all communities across ka pae ‘āina.


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