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11 Hilo Inmates Ask for Early Release Amid Virus Outbreak

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HILO, Hawaii — Eleven inmates at the Hilo jail have asked a judge to release them early for public health reasons amid a COVID-19 outbreak.

Hilo Circuit Judge Peter Kubota granted five of the motions but denied or postponed the rest, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported. Most of the cases he denied were for offenders who had repeatedly violated probation in the past.

As of Friday, nearly 200 inmates at the Hawaii Community Correctional Center have tested positive for COVID-19 since May 24. There were seven active cases among staff.

The coronavirus outbreak occurred as the jail struggled with overcrowding. The jail population exceeds operational capacity by more than 100 inmates.

Deputy Public Defender Patrick Munoz, who represents some of the people asking to be released early, said the increasingly intolerable conditions at the jail represent an undue hardship for inmates.

“Not only are individuals being exposed to the effects of this potentially life-threatening and long-lasting virus, but there’s also the effects on people being in an overcrowded prison afraid for their lives,” he said. “It’s like they’re on a sinking ship. Fear is overcoming them, people are beginning to panic.”

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