Following the primary election in August, Steve Alm and Megan Kau are the current candidates for the City and County of Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney. To help Honolulu voters feel empowered and informed, here are their responses to the candidate questionnaire we sent to all candidates running in 2020 contested race for Prosecuting Attorney back in May 2020.

Steve and Megan prosecutor survey

Learn more about what a reform-minded prosecutor can do.

The questionnaire consists of 17 questions total; 16 Yes/No questions and one free form question on COVID-19. Where neither “Yes” nor “No” is selected, the response was recorded as “No position taken.”  Responses were originally recorded on May 15th, 2020. The full answers presented below are unedited and exactly as submitted by the candidate. 

The Campaign for Smart Justice Hawai‘i seeks to address racial disparities in our criminal legal system and reduce mass incarceration by half. 

To learn more about how to vote this November, please visit our 2020 Election Guide.

1. Do you think Hawai‘i relies too heavily on incarceration?

Q.Do you think Hawai‘i relies too heavily on incarceration?
A.

Steve Alm - Yes

Criminal justice system policies should be based on data and research and not on “gut feelings,” hearsay, or “We’ve always done it this way.” I think many policy makers in Hawaii have recognized that and have recently made several statutory changes to reduce incarceration. This is being smart on crime. These include eliminating the methamphetamine trafficking charge with its mandatory 10 year prison sentence for distributing ANY amount of methamphetamine, eliminating the Repeat Offender mandatory prison/mandatory minimum for possession of a small amount of drugs (Promoting a Dangerous Drug in the Third Degree), and raising the felony theft threshold from $300 to $750 (to keep up with inflation). Now, regarding those drug crimes, the courts have the discretion to either place the defendant on probation or send him or her to prison. We also now have proven supervision strategies such as Drug Court, Mental Health Court, and HOPE Probation that have been shown by research that compared to regular probation, help people better succeed on pre-trial, probation, and parole and avoid going back to prison. Research is clear that substance abuse treatment is more effective when done in the community rather than in prison (where the environment is too artificial). As judges and probation officers become more aware of such research they can use it to help guide their sentencing decisions. These strategies should be used to the greatest extent possible which will further reduce the incarcerated population. One additional sentencing option that could reduce incarceration is found in HRS Sec. 706-660. For most Class B and C felonies, if a judge decides to send the defendant to prison, instead of having to give the maximum 10 or 5 year sentence in all cases, the judge can fashion the sentence to fit the case. For Class B felonies, the judge can now set the maximum at ten years or fewer but not fewer than five years, and for Class C felonies five years or fewer but not fewer than one year. This statute is not being frequently used by Hawaii judges but as they become more aware of research in this area it may well be used more often.

Megan Kau - No

The first part of my answer is that incarceration must be relied upon within the criminal justice system. Incarceration is an alternative to treatment, which is always the better solution. But the challenge is that very often a drug user will not get treatment unless he/she is forced to do so. Therefore, in order to get treatment, a defendant has two choices: either (1) get treatment on his/her own; or (2) get forced into treatment with the threat of incarceration. If a defendant refuses to get treatment, he/she must be incarcerated. The second part of my answer is that this question is better directed at the corrections division: the Department of Public Safety. The criminal justice system works when all phases of the system are operating as required. Police police. Prosecutors prosecute. Judges judge. And the corrections department corrects. Rehabilitation is key here. Hawai`i’s correction system could be improved by adding more room, more rehabilitation, more recovery programs, more skill building programs, and more transitional programs that take an inmate from the corrections system and reacquaints him/her with society. As the prosecutor, I would advocate for this; however, my role as prosecutor in the criminal justice system is to prosecute.

2. Do you think Hawaii’s jails are overcrowded?

Q.Do you think Hawaii’s jails are overcrowded?
A.

Steve Alm – Yes

A review of the Public Safety Department’s statistics clearly shows that our four jails statewide are seriously overcrowded [Note that at this time, 5/15/20, the jail numbers are now, at least temporarily, being reduced due to the coronavirus crisis.]  Overcrowded jails are unsanitary and dangerous.  There are good reasons why there are capacity limits set for our jails (and prisons).  It is to keep inmates and staff safe and allow the institution to operate in an orderly manner.

Megan Kau – No position taken

3. Do you have a specific decarceration goal?

Q.Do you have a specific decarceration goal?
A.

Steve Alm – Yes

Ideally, the jail (and prison) population should be as low as possible consistent with the twin overriding goals of treating people fairly and protecting public safety.  There are many strategies we can use to reduce the jail and prison populations. The first is replacing the current cash bail system with one that allows for alternatives such as release on recognizance, a signature bond, or supervision by the jail’s Intake Service Center.  A good model for this type of approach is the Washington, DC Pretrial Services Agency. Most defendants in DC are released pending trial and the Pretrial Services Agency provides them with programs, counseling, and appropriate supervision, and the vast majority appear for their court dates and don’t commit new crimes. Given that the pretrial population in DC is more violent and dangerous than the pretrial population in Hawaii, I believe the Pretrial Services Agency model can be a good one for us to follow. Second, I would expand the use of proven community-based strategies like Drug Court, Mental Health Court, and HOPE Probation to help defendants deal with their substance abuse and/or mental health issues while succeeding on probation and avoiding going to prison. Using swift, certain, consistent and proportionate jail sanctions is a critical part of the HOPE model. This is not punishment for its own sake. These jail sanctions teach accountability (adult choices have consequences) and provide the needed leverage so that probationers keep their appointments with their probation officers, reduce their drug use, attend and persevere in treatment, etc. Research has found that those in HOPE Probation compared to regular probation were arrested for new crimes 55% less often and failed at probation and served or were sentenced to prison for 48% fewer days. While some might think with its certain and  consistent jail sanctions HOPE probation would result in the use of more jail bed bays than regular probation.  The researchers studied that and found that the HOPE probationers went to jail more often but for shorter periods (e.g., two days, fifteen days, thirty days).  Those on regular probation didn’t go to jail as often but were arrested for new crimes much more often and had their probation revoked much more often (usually sitting in jail for ten weeks waiting for their probation revocation hearing). In addition, revoked defendants on regular probation were frequently given a new four year term of probation and six months or a year in jail as a condition of probation (in a jail that offers little in the way of programming or rehabilitation.)  As a result, the jail bed days for those in HOPE and in regular probation were found to be the same. Thus, if there were fewer defendants in HOPE, those same defendants would instead be in regular probation and doing just as much jail time. We would also not get the benefit of the 55% fewer new arrests and the half as many sentences to prison that HOPE provides. The HOPE strategy was piloted in the Pretrial context in Honolulu and showed impressive reductions in recidivism and HOPE Pretrial should be instituted along with HOPE Parole. Third, the statutory changes referenced in my answer to question 5 have already reduced the number of people going to prison as well, and have increased public safety. The increased use of HRS section 706-660 referenced in my answer to question #1, above, will also result in reduced incarceration.

Megan Kau – No

As Prosecutor, I will prosecute cases to the fullest extent of the law and allow the judge or the jury to determine if a defendant is innocent or guilty. Justice will be served because a defendant who is found not guilty is freed, while a defendant who is found guilty is sentenced to either supervision or a term of imprisonment. The length imprisonment is determined by the court, not the Prosecutor.

4. Do you agree with expanding the use of diversion programs?

Q.Do you agree with expanding the use of diversion programs?
A.

Steve Alm – Yes

If certain defendants can be safely supervised in the community without getting a criminal record, that is a goal worth pursuing.  The challenge will be to identify appropriate charges and defendants and meaningful programs and interventions. In addition, the criteria for getting a deferred acceptance of a guilty or no contest plea (in order to keep it off their records) should be expanded so a person may have the opportunity for a deferral for a felony charge, if a judge approves in a specific case, if they have already gotten a deferral for a misdemeanor.  Presently, if an individual has received a deferral for a misdemeanor, they are not eligible for

Megan Kau – Yes

When faced with the option of treatment versus incarceration, treatment is always the better path. Unfortunately, a defendant is not always willing to get treatment. In that case, the defendant must be incarcerated. If the defendant is open to treatment, then programs like LEAD and Habilitat should be utilized. I fully support those programs and others like them.

5. Do you commit to being a vocal advocate for criminal legal reform at the Capitol?

Q.Do you commit to being a vocal advocate for criminal legal reform at the Capitol?
A.

Steve Alm – Yes

During my entire career, I have been a vocal advocate for criminal justice reform at the State Legislature (and the City Council) to make our legal system more effective and more equitable, for victims, defendants, and the public.  The criminal justice system in Hawaii is complex and interconnected and involves all three branches of government.  In order to effect real, substantive change, you have to have a spirit of collaboration and a recognition that a change to one part of the system leads to consequences in other parts of the system.  I have been a vocal and effective advocate for change in the legal system at the State Legislature, the City Council, and the United States Congress in several areas:  As a deputy prosecutor, I advocated to make Manslaughter a Class A felony, punishable by 20 years in prison, instead of the then 10 year maximum prison term.  This was primarily so perpetrators of domestic violence homicide would be appropriately punished if they were convicted of Manslaughter, instead of murder.  This was most frequently an issue when the perpetrator of a domestic violence homicide killed their spouse, partner or relative. As the United States Atttorney, I led the Weed & Seed initiative which reduced crime in Kalihi-Palama and Chinatown by over 70% in 3 years. Felonies dropped from 3,041 down to 746 and misdemeanors from 7,686 down to 2,346. While the federal government initially funded Weed & Seed, when the funding ended, the City and the City Council stepped in to provide funding.                          

As a Circuit Court Judge, I partnered with Honolulu Probation, and the other criminal justice partners, to create HOPE Probation in 2004.  We started with zero extra funding, just a willingness by all the parties to try to make our probation system more effective and fair. HOPE is a strategy that encourages and assists probationers to succeed on probation by changing their thinking to change their behavior.  Research has shown that those in HOPE, when compared to a control group on regular felony probation, were arrested for new crimes 55% less often, tested positive for drugs 72% less often, and failed probation and went to prison 48% less often.  While Native Hawaiians had their probation revoked and were sent to prison (Halawa, Arizona or WCCC) 26% of the time on regular felony probation, the rate on HOPE Probation was only 15%.  Seeing that we had come up with a better and proven way to work with probationers, we approached the Hawaii Legislature in 2006 for funding to really expand the HOPE strategy. They provided 1.2 million dollars to fund HOPE’s expansion and that funding was added to the Judiciary budget and continues to this day. Most of the funding is used to pay for additional drug treatment slots and also to hire additional probation officers and drug testers. In 2005 and 2015, I chaired the twenty-nine member Penal Code Review Committee. In 2015, we made 84 recommendations for statutory changes to the penal code to the State Legislature.  I represented the Committee at the 2006 Legislature, frequently alongside the Honolulu Prosecutor, who spoke in opposition to many of the suggested changes.  All 84 recommended changes were adopted and became effective on July 1, 2006. These included eliminating the mandatory 10 year prison term for distributing ANY amount of methamphetamine (typically a $20 bag of meth) and eliminating the Repeat Offender mandatory prison/mandatory minimum for possession of a small amount of drugs (now giving the judge the discretion to impose a prison or probationary term for these drug charges based on the facts of the individual case, the defendant's record, etc). We also recommended raising the felony theft threshold from $300 to $750 (to reflect the current cost of living since the threshold was last set in the 80’s), and removed restrictions for entry into the specialty courts (Drug Court, Veteran’s Court, and Mental Health Court).

Megan Kau – Yes

It depends on “criminal legal reform” is defined. I am against lowering the penalty for drug possession of less than 2 grams. Drugs are the root cause of most of the criminal activity. As such, we should not lower the penalty for possessing drugs. It should remain a felony offense. If we continue to lower the penalties for these offenses, no defendant will be held accountable long enough to get meaningful treatment.

6. Do you acknowledge there is implicit bias in the criminal legal system in Hawaii?

Q.Do you acknowledge there is implicit bias in the criminal legal system in Hawaii?
A.

Steve Alm – Yes

As human beings we are all affected by our life experiences and upbringing which leave us with certain biases and preconceptions.  Some we may be aware of, and some we may not.  As a judge, I participated in implicit bias training and thought it was valuable and useful.  This type of training would be appropriate for anyone working in the criminal justice system including all deputy prosecutors.

Megan Kau – No

It depends on how “implicit bias” is defined. If that term means that law enforcement somehow targets a certain race, sex, age, sexual orientation, or other, then my answer is no. I do not believe that law enforcement targets a certain race, sex, age, sexual orientation, or other. However, I do acknowledge that there are socio-economic issues in our community, just as there are in other societies. The Prosecutor is not in a position to fix these societal issues. The Prosecutor’s role is to objectively apply the criminal law to anyone that violates the law.

7. Do you acknowledge that systemic racism exists in the criminal legal system in Hawaii?

Q.Do you acknowledge that systemic racism exists in the criminal legal system in Hawaii?
A.

Steve Alm – Yes

Systemic racism doesn’t mean that everyone in the criminal justice system is a racist.  It means that over the years, the criminal justice system, in spite of many good efforts by people working within it, nevertheless results in disparate outcomes for different races in the system.  For example, it can’t be disputed that Native Hawaiians are over-represented in the criminal justice system in Hawaii.  There needs to be a lot more research in this area to see why this is the case and what can be done to address it, whether in the legal system or elsewhere.

Megan Kau – No

It depends what “systemic racism” means. If it means that law enforcement somehow targets a certain race, then my answer is no. I do not believe that law enforcement targets a certain race when investigating a crime. However, I do acknowledge that there are socio-economic issues in our community, just as there are in other societies. The Prosecutor is not in a position to fix these societal issues. The Prosecutor’s role is to objectively apply the criminal law to anyone that violates the law

8. Do you have a clear plan to combat racism in the criminal legal system in Hawaii?

Q.Do you have a clear plan to combat racism in the criminal legal system in Hawaii?
A.

Steve Alm – Yes

First, I will create a culture of Doing Justice and being ethical in the Prosecutor’s Office, not just winning cases. At every stage of the process from arrest to charging, through sentencing, and appeal, we have to ensure that bias, whether conscious or not, does not affect decision-making in the office.  Second, I will have all of the deputy prosecutors take implicit bias training.  Third, the Honolulu Prosecutor’s Office will support criminal justice initiatives that have been proven to treat people fairly and reduce racial disparities. For example, research has shown that Native Hawaiians in regular felony probation have their probation revoked and are sent to prison 26% of the time.  Conversely, Native Hawaiians in HOPE Probation had a revocation rate of only 15%. HOPE puts Native Hawaiians on an even footing with the other ethnic groups on probation. Given that approximately 2,400 felony probationers are in HOPE Probation at any one time, this has meant that hundreds of Native Hawaiians have succeeded on probation in HOPE and have avoided being sent to prison.  Fourth, I will work with various community partners, to learn about any discrimination they see in the criminal justice system, and then work to eliminate it. Fifth, more research needs to be done to see who is not being treated fairly in the legal system and what changes need to be made to treat all people more equitably.

Megan Kau – No

This question is misleading and assumes that there is “racism” in the criminal legal system. I do not believe that law enforcement targets a certain race when investing crimes. However, I do acknowledge that there are socio-economic issues in our community, just as there are in other societies. The Prosecutor is not in a position to fix these societal issues. The Prosecutor’s role is to objectively apply the criminal law to anyone that violates the law as it is written, no matter what race the defendant may be. My plan is to fulfill that role. A Prosecutor that chooses which type of race to charge (or not charge) for a criminal offense becomes a corrupt Prosecutor

9. Will you begin race and ethnicity data collection explicitly as it relates to prosecutions?

Q.Will you begin race and ethnicity data collection explicitly as it relates to prosecutions?
A.

Steve Alm – Yes

Megan Kau – Yes

If the legislature passes a bill to require this then yes, I will follow the law.

10. Will your office commit to not seeking money bail as a condition of release?

Q.Will your office commit to not seeking money bail as a condition of release?
A.

Steve Alm – Yes

The current cash bail system penalizes the poor and rewards those with more assets and provides no supervision for many.  If the cash bail system can be replaced by a process that allows for alternatives such as release on recognizance, signature bonds, or appropriate supervision by the Intake Service System or otherwise, then I am in favor of it. This will be a big undertaking and will not be easy. It will have to be a system-wide effort as a change in one part of the system will affect the workings of the other parts. Judges will have to be available for charged individuals to appear before them soon after arrest, and Intake Service Center will have to be expanded and funding will need to be made available to provide for treatment options, and other services for the Pretrial population.  The Washington, DC Pretrial Services Agency is a good model for this.  Proven strategies like HOPE Pretrial should be employed to reduce the number of arrests among the pretrial population. Research showed that those in HOPE Pretrial were arrested for a new felony 42% less often than those in the control group on regular pretrial.  In addition, those in HOPE Pretrial remained 45% longer on supervised release without a revocation, and were convicted of the instant felony offense 14% less often.  This means that fewer people entered the criminal justice system with new charges, fewer people were victimized, and fewer people ended up on probation or were sent to prison.

Megan Kau – No

Bail is an amount that a defendant must pay so he/she can get out of jail pending trial. Once it is paid, the person is released from custody. Bail can be paid either by 1) paying the amount in cash; or 2) having a bond company post a bond. Bail is needed to ensure that the defendant will appear in court and that he/she will not commit another crime.   Currently, Honolulu is not set up to monitor several defendants who have not paid a bail amount. The December 2018 Hawai`i Criminal Pretrial Reform Recommendations of the Criminal Pretrial Task Force to the Thirtieth Legislature of the State of Hawai`i (“Recommendation”) specifically says that “ISC staffing, especially when impacted by vacancies, is inadequate to meet current demands, much less any significant increased future responsibilities consistent with a high-functioning pretrial justice system. . . . Additionally, for defendants released on supervision, ISC staff must monitor compliance and report violations to the court. ISC personnel and resources need to be increased to ensure that all tasks are performed adequately.” Recommendation at 69.  If a Prosecutor is going to advocate for eliminating the bail system, there needs to be an alternative to monitoring defendants. As it stands now, there is no alternative.

11. Will your office pledge to recommend for all legally permissible cases presumptive release of defendants without financial conditions attached?

Q.Will your office pledge to recommend for all legally permissible cases presumptive release of defendants without financial conditions attached?
A.

Steve Alm – Yes

Please see the answer to question #10 above.  Hopefully, the entire cash bail system can be replaced with one that provides alternatives like release on own recognizance, signature bonds, or supervision and services when appropriate.  A good model for this is the Washington, DC Pretrial Services Agency.

Megan Kau – No

See answer to #10. [Previous answer]

12. Do you support posting all office policies and procedures on the prosecutor’s website?

Q.Do you support posting all office policies and procedures on the prosecutor’s website?
A.

Steve Alm – Yes

Megan Kau – Yes

I would consider posting the policies and procedures if doing so is in the best interest of the community. My concern is that the reason prosecutor’s policies are not released to the general public is so that defendants do not educate themselves on how to commit crimes and avoid prosecution.

13. Do you support collecting and releasing data annually on decision making?

Q.Do you support collecting and releasing data annually on decision making?
A.

Steve Alm – Yes

Provided that it is consistent with public safety, every effort will be made to make the decision-making by the office as transparent as possible.  Restoring trust in the Prosecutor’s Office is what this election is all about and both doing the right thing and being perceived as doing the right thing are both important parts of restoring that trust. Doing good data collection and analysis also requires an effective management information system that is able to capture the right data and make it available for evaluation and analysis.

Megan Kau – Yes

If the legislature passes a bill requiring this, then yes.

14. Do you support an independent prosecuting unit for police involved shootings, sexual assault by law enforcement officers, excessive force and other police misconduct cases?

Q.Do you support an independent prosecuting unit for police involved shootings, sexual assault by law enforcement officers, excessive force and other police misconduct cases?
A.

Steve Alm – No

First, in these challenging financial times, I would need to evaluate if there are a sufficient number of criminal cases to warrant an entirely separate unit to prosecute police shootings, sex assaults, etc. In any case, as the Prosecuting Attorney, I am ultimately responsible for all charging and prosecutorial decisions made by the Honolulu Prosecutor’s Office.  That would be true whether there was a separate unit or such cases were assigned to experienced and knowledgeable deputy prosecutors in other sections of the office. (I would still be responsible either way so it would not be “independent” in that regard.) These assigned deputies would be given the responsibility for investigating and  trying those types of cases which are  difficult, important and necessary.  I know I can do this as I did it before when I was the United States Attorney.  While not common, we prosecuted police officers when it was appropriate and sent them to federal prison for the crimes they committed. I will treat these kinds of cases seriously and fairly, if I am elected the Honolulu Prosecutor.

Megan Kau – Yes

The State of Hawai`i Criminal Justice Division’s Law Enforcement Officer Independent Review Board is tasked with this responsibility.

15. Do you commit to not prosecuting juvenile status offenses (such as truancy curfew running away) and tobacco and vaping offenses?

Q.Do you commit to not prosecuting juvenile status offenses (such as truancy curfew running away) and tobacco and vaping offenses?
A.

Steve Alm – Yes

I don’t believe status offenses like truancy, curfew, etc. should be prosecuted.  When I was the Director of the District and Family Court Division at the Honolulu Prosecutor’s Office, we recognized that those matters should not be the subject of criminal prosecution and stopped prosecuting them. Regarding smoking and vaping, this is a serious public health matter, but the focus of law enforcement efforts

Megan Kau – No

Juveniles should be prosecuted just like adults. If the community does not support a certain law (for example truancy), then it is the community’s responsibility to vote for a legislator who will fight to remove that law. Juvenile offenders become adult offenders if their behavior is not immediately corrected. The best time to correct their behavior is before they become adults, at which point their decisions lead to a permanent record

16. Do you commit to developing and implementing a community engagement plan that includes communities of color, the immigrant community based organizations and criminal legal reform advocates in the development of your first 100 day plan?

Q.Do you commit to developing and implementing a community engagement plan that includes communities of color, the immigrant community based organizations and criminal legal reform advocates in the development of your first 100 day plan?
A.

Steve Alm – Yes

As the Honolulu Prosecutor, I serve the people.  Part of that job is to engage with and learn from the community. I became aware during my years as the United States Attorney and then as a judge, of the importance of engaging with all parts of the community, listening to their concerns, and working with them to solve criminal justice issues and reduce crime in their neighborhoods. When you do that, you can change the system and change the community.  No one ever gets anything done alone.  The better approach is bringing people together and then working hard and collaboratively to solve problems.  As the United States Attorney I led the effort to bring law enforcement resources together and the social service, non-profit and various community groups together to initiate the first Weed & Seed strategy in Kalihi-Palama and Chinatown.  This process started by meeting community members at Kaiulani Elementary School and asking them what their concerns were regarding crime and missing services in their community.  This Weed & Seed strategy in Kalihi-Palama and Chinatown, along with other efforts in the community, resulted in a reduction of crime of over 70% in three years. Felonies dropped from 3,041 down to 746, and misdemeanors from 7,686 down to 2,346. At the same time, the Weed & Seed efforts included starting an after-school tutoring program and an after-school sports program at Kaiulani Elementary School, a Head Start program at Kukui Gardens, and a Weed & Seed Community House at Mayor Wright Homes for the neighborhood kids to study and use donated computers, and for families to meet with social service agencies when needed.  If elected as the Honolulu Prosecutor, I will continue to advocate for community engagement in various neighborhoods and bring the Weed & Seed strategy back to Kalihi-Palama

Megan Kau – Yes

I intend to assign two deputies as community prosecutors. They will be tasked with communicating with the community and answering questions from the community.

17. In light of the COVID 19 virus what are your thoughts on releasing vulnerable populations non violent offenders and people incarcerated simply because they cannot afford bail?

Q.In light of the COVID 19 virus what are your thoughts on releasing vulnerable populations non violent offenders and people incarcerated simply because they cannot afford bail?
A.

Steve Alm –

At this time (Friday, May 15, 2020), I am pleased to see the hard work by the Public Defenders, the Prosecutor, the Judiciary, and Special Master Dan Foley in working together together to make appropriate releases.  When they can’t agree on a particular case, it goes before a judge to decide. I support that case-by-case process advocated by Special Master Foley. There are a lot of variables to consider as each person and his or her circumstances are different. These include vulnerabilities of the inmate, his or her prior record including violence, any history of absconding, the victim’s interests, any substance abuse and/or mental health issues, the ability to support him or herself, and whether or not they have a place to stay. That collaborative work should continue. Those efforts, combined with the normal workings of the jail regarding releases (e.g., defendants bailing out, finishing their sentences, or being released by the Department of Public Safety’s own statutory authority) have already resulted in a reduction of the jail population of several hundred people and that should continue. The Honolulu Police Department has also been doing its part by issuing citations instead of making arrests when possible, and deferring arrests in other cases.  This has markedly decreased the number of people going into jail at the front end. It is past time, and vitally important now, that all current inmates (and new admissions), ACOs, and other jail personnel be tested for the COVID-19 virus on a regular basis. We need that information to know what is really going in the jail population.  There are still legitimate questions to ask about who should be released. There may be some defendants who can’t currently make bail and yet should not be released because of their history of violence or absconding.  I also have concerns about releasing people if they have no place to live, have no money, and are going to be homeless. Being homeless is miserable, dangerous, and difficult.  Many, if not most of the defendants in jail, have substance abuse and/or mental health problems.  Releasing them to the homeless world is not compassion, and would increase the likelihood of their catching the coronavirus, as well as being victimized as many homeless are. Social/physical distancing and the use of clean masks (if they can be obtained) is nearly impossible for the homeless population.  I am also concerned that during this crisis, due to the physical/social distancing mandates, meaningful supervision of those in the system whether in pretrial by the Intake Service Center at the jail, or by probation officers at the court house, is almost non-existent.  There is currently no drug testing being done, no in-person meetings (phone only), and many substance abuse and mental health treatment centers have largely stopped accepting new clients to protect their existing clients and staff. The Department of Public Safety should be challenged to provide physical distancing, masking, and physical hygiene opportunities of those under their supervision in the jails or elsewhere.  This is a time for creativity and innovation, ensuring that the jail population, ACOs, and other jail employees are safe.

Megan Kau –

I don’t believe releasing inmates solely because of the pandemic is in the best interest of public safety. A judge has already ruled that this defendant should not be released into the community—because he/she is a flight risk and/or because he/she is likely to re-offend. Being in the midst of a pandemic does not change those factors. If the defendant is at risk of death because he/she has a pre-existing medical condition, the trial judge may consider that on a case-by-case basis to address that risk. Otherwise, the Department of the Public Safety has its own policies in place to deal with this type of situation. Inmates are safer in a facility and the community is safer while inmates are in a facility.