New Hawaii Law Shows Information Withheld In Prison Deaths

Jan 6, 2020

A new state law requiring Hawaii prison officials to report each time an inmate dies in custody has revealed the case of a prisoner whose death resulting from an alleged assault was not publicly announced.

The state Department of Public Safety withheld key information from mandated reports to the governor's office on inmates who died in state prisons and jails, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Sunday.

The reports are required under Act 234, which the state Legislature passed and Democratic Gov. David Ige signed into law last year.

It requires the public safety director to report inmate or correctional employee deaths at state prisons and jails or private prisons to the governor within 48 hours. The governor is required to forward the reports to lawmakers.

The first dozen inmate death reports under the act were released by House Speaker Scott Saiki’s office, but prison officials redacted almost all details such as the deceased inmates' names, ages and genders, the newspaper reported.

But one report filed with the governor Dec. 26 noted the death of a prisoner on Christmas day at Oahu Community Correctional Center. The Honolulu police classified the case as a homicide resulting from an alleged assault on an inmate by another inmate Nov. 19, the report said.

The public safety department did not publicly announce the November attack or the resulting death in December, the newspaper reported.

Krishna Jayaram, special assistant to Attorney General Clare Connors, said much of the information called for in the new law is withheld because the public safety department is subject to the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which protects private health care information.

The lapse in reporting the death is of concern “because it is a public institution that’s funded by public money,” said Kat Brady, a state prison system critic and coordinator of the Community Alliance on Prisons.

“You have an obligation to do that. These people are under your care and custody, and they are our friends and family in there, so to me, it’s not even a question,” Brady said.