Cover of LEJ's new report, "Outbreak," available for download here.
Report documents fear campaign against initiative that could have prevented tragedy
News Release from Lawyers for Equal Justice, August 19, 2020
Yesterday, Lawyers for Equal Justice released a new report entitled, "Outbreak," which examines an innovative Hawaiʻi Supreme Court-mandated inmate release program (held from April 16–June 5). The initiative was aimed at reducing the chronic overcrowding situation in Hawaiʻi correctional facilities, which expert testimony concluded posed a serious public health and safety risk in the context of COVID-19.
The report concludes that this program was an important factor in preventing a serious outbreak of COVID-19 in correctional facilities (until August, Hawaiʻi was the only state with no such outbreak). The report also concludes that, despite this success, public perception of the program was overwhelmingly negative, fueled by a scare-tactics campaign initiated by public officials and politicians, and uncritically parroted by local media sources.
The report is unique in that it analyzes this gulf between the facts of the release program and public perception, and draws on quantitative data to demonstrate shortcomings in information dissemination in the midst of a public health emergency that has now become worse than ever as a result.
The program ended in June; the number of inmates steadily increased again; and the conditions for a severe outbreak returned.
Oʻahu's jail, OCCC, is now experiencing the worst cluster of COVID-19 transmission in the state, with hundreds of inmates and public employees testing positive. To mitigate the impact of the public health disaster they helped create, public officials and the media should take care to disseminate fully contextualized, accurate information from here on out. Doing so will protect the health of the public, as well as the inmates and public employees that oversee them.
What people are saying about the report
"Mahalo Piha, Tom and Everyone at Lawyers for Equal Justice. It is refreshing to hear the truth spoken. We have all been in the spin cycle way too long. Imua!" — Kat Brady, Community Alliance on Prisons
"Read the report from @EqualJusticeHI - SO many critical findings. Here’s just one: 'The vast majority of the formerly-incarcerated people released through the Supreme Court process were not re-arrested.' This next point is essential and undermines prosecutors’ fearmongering. 'Of those who were released and then re-arrested, 80 percent were re-arrested for houselessness-related offenses, such as entry of a closed public park, or violations of the terms of their release, such as failing to call a probation officer.' Read that again. Stunning." — Josh Wisch, Executive Director, ACLU Hawaiʻi
"A must-read report by @EqualJusticeHI on how mistruths fed by prosecutors to media caused the halt of a release program that would have prevented the human rights crisis we are currently seeing in #OCCC." — Jacquie Esser, Public Defender, Former Candidate for Honolulu Prosecutor