Reported by: Andrew Pereira
A local attorney and the Hawaii chapter of the ACLU believe the Department of Public Safety is violating prisoners’ constitutional rights by keeping them jailed longer then their sentences require.
“The ACLU has been concerned about over detentions for quite some time,” said Dan Gluck, senior staff attorney for the Hawaii chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
“We have some very serious concerns about how the facilities are being run and inmates’ constitutional rights.”
In 2002 the state paid $610,000 to inmates who were jailed past their mandated prison sentences. The ACLU secured damages after filing a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of nine prisoners.
After gaining class action status the litigation eventually covered 180 inmates who were paid $1,000 for every extra day they stayed in prison. Some prisoners also received $3,000 for each strip search they were subjected to when they should have been freed.
On Wednesday State Auditor Marion Higa released a report on the Department of Public safety that showed over detention could be systemic.
According to the audit, 280 out of 985 release date errors were found at the Halawa Correctional Facility while reviewing the August 9, 2010 inmate roster report.
“One of the easiest things to check is whether the release date is correct,” said Higa. “Well we found in almost 30 percent of the cases the release date is already passed.”
“The audit shows that we are likely wasting large sums of money,” Gluck told Khon2. “The ACLU for years has been talking about the need for greater oversight, transparency and accountability and the audit shows exactly that.”
Meanwhile the state may be forced to payout even more money to inmates who were held in prison longer than what their sentences required.
A federal civil rights lawsuit filed in August of last year is awaiting a ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on whether the case can go to trial. Civil Rights attorney Jack Schweigert represents six of the nine plaintiffs.
“Once I went to court on these guys they were released instantly,” said Schweigert, who believes DPS is acting with indifference to inmates’ constitutional rights.
Schweigert says much of the problem arises from DPS calculating inmate sentences consecutively rather than concurrently.
For instance, if an inmate is convicted of two separate charges that require two years in jail for each count, judges often allow the prisoner to serve both sentences at once. Schweigert says DPS often decides erroneously that sentences should be served back-to-back, turning a two year jail sentence into a four year imprisonment.
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