The Hawaii Department of Public Safety will establish a five-member committee to provide non-binding guidance on the COVID response in state jails and prisons.
The Hawaii Department of Public Safety has reached a settlement with state inmates, who claim the agency did not comply with its own coronavirus response plan.
According to The Star Advertiser, the Department of Public Safety will establish an oversight committee, which should be running by mid-September.
The committee will report on what is “actually” happening inside Hawaii state prisons and local jails. The panel will have five members, comprised of health and public safety experts. Collectively, they will provide non-binding recommendations intended to assist the department in developing an effective coronavirus response strategy.
The formation of the panel, adds the Advertiser, is one part of the settlement agreement entered on Friday.
A federal judge had earlier slammed the Department of Public Safety for failing to implement a comprehensive pandemic-containment response.
In a court statement, federal Judge Jill Otake said the department’s failures facilitated the rapid spread of coronavirus in Hawaii prisons. Outbreaks occurred at five of the state’s eight facilities, leading to more than 50% of the inmate population contracting COVID-19.
Hundreds of staff members were also diagnosed with coronavirus.
Eric Seitz, an attorney for the class action plaintiffs, said the committee will include two medical experts, including DR. Kim Thorburn, who was Hawaii’s first-ever prisons medical director.
Hawaii News Now notes that Dr. Thorburn’s position was created as a direct result of another lawsuit that Seitz spearheaded in the 1980s.
“And [Dr. Thorburn] created and built the medical system in the prisons,” Seitz said. “She’s very good when it comes to prison medicine.”
Seitz said the other medical expert is Dr. Homer Venters, who was headed New York City’s prisons health system.
“When he retired from that position, he was spending the last couple of years going around the country, as an expert helping prisons do exactly what we’re hoping to do here,” Seitz said.
While the committee’s recommendations will not be binding, Seitz said that, subject to court approval, the settlement will allow the inmates’ attorneys to find out exactly what is happening in Hawaii prisons and jails.
“Subject to the court’s final approval, we have entered into a settlement with the state, which will enable us to enforce Judge Otake’s preliminary injunction by allowing our experts to have access to the state prisons’ staff and inmates to determine what is actually being done and can be done to better combat COVID-19 and to more effectively protect inmates, staff, and communities at large,” Seitz said.