ACLU Sends Petition to Hawaii Leaders Urging COVID-19 Prisoner Releases
In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak at O‘ahu Community Correction Center (“OCCC”) last month, the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai‘i (“ACLU of Hawai‘i”) mailed copies of a petition signed on by hundreds of people to Governor Ige, Lieutenant Governor Josh Green, Attorney General Clare Connors, the Department of Public Safety, County Prosecuting Attorneys, County Police Chiefs, Hawai‘i Senate President Ron Kouchi, Hawai‘i House Speaker Scott Saiki and various media outlets urging leaders to release people from jail and prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The petition comprised two letters. The first was an open letter originally sent to Hawai‘i leaders on April 9, 2020 warning them of a potential outbreak and urging them to take immediate action. The open letter asked to drastically reduce the number of people in Hawaii’s jails and prisons, starting with releasing the most vulnerable to serious illness or death, like kūpuna and the immunocompromised, and those simply sitting in jail because they cannot afford bail, and also requested that during the pandemic, incarcerated people have mental health support, free phone calls and access to sanitation products.
ACLU of Hawai‘i Field Organizer Shayna Lonoaea-Alexander said: “Since the beginning of the pandemic earlier this spring, public health experts and advocates have been warning that an outbreak in our overcrowded jails and prisons would spread like wildfire. This is exactly what happened last month at OCCC. With lives on the line, we need to do everything in our power to protect and advocate for our loved ones and communities on in the inside. This time, hundreds of people and more organizations signed the letter in support, demanding incarcerated people be protected from COVID-19.”
Following the open letter was a letter authored by The Native Hawaiian & Pacific Islander Hawai‘i COVID-19 Response, Recovery, and Resilience Team, a collective of more than 30 organizations that serve Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities in Hawai‘i. This letter was written in support of the actions called for in the open letter.
Dr. Kealoha Fox of The Native Hawaiian & Pacific Islander Hawai‘i COVID-19 Response, Recovery, and Resilience Team said: “While it is important to respond and take appropriate action in light of the dire circumstances that we are currently experiencing, the NHPI Hawaiʻi COVID-19 Team also recognizes the need to plan for recovery and resiliency. To do this, we suggest incorporating cultural program resourcing to prevent the prison pipeline of our Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander community members. For further information, please reference the Office of Hawaiian Affairs 2010 Report on the disparate treatment of Native Hawaiians.”
The petition was signed by almost 400 members of the public along with the following organizations: ‘Ekolu Mea Nui, Hawaii Friends of Civil Rights, Hawaii Health and Harm Reduction, KAHEA: The Grain Environmental Alliance, Medical-Legal Partnership, and The Native Hawaiian & Pacific Islander Hawai‘i COVID-19 Response, Recovery, and Resilience Team.
Jamee Vasconcellos Miller of ‘Ekolu Mea Nui said: “It is unfortunate that the leaders of our state did not heed the advice by public health experts to implement measures that would allow social distancing in prisons as a means to ultimately protect our communities. We hope this petition will cause our leaders to act with compassion and aloha by immediately reducing the numbers of those incarcerated.”