HONOLULU — A Hawaii task force is recommending the state form an independent commission to provide oversight of correctional facilities as well as shepherd in reforms to the prison system.
The 13-member task force chaired by Hawaii Supreme Court Associate Justice Michael Wilson is expected to finalize and submit its report to the state Legislature by the end of the year, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Monday.
The report cites the lack of public information about inmate suicides as one of the reasons supporting an independent oversight commission. It calls for the commission to inspect and monitor correctional facilities, investigate complaints and report findings to the public.
Hawaii’s inmate suicide rate is the seventh highest in the country, according to statistics from the federal Bureau of Justice. The state Department of Public Safety hasn’t released the results of internal investigations on the 26 inmate suicides in Hawaii jails and prisons that have occurred since 2010.
“The public never finds out anything,” said Robert Merce, a member of the task force. “All the public knows is that people are killing themselves in this prison system at an alarming rate. That is why you need an independent, outside agency to go in immediately and investigate all those kinds of things and find out what are the policies, are people following the policies or are the policies themselves the problem.”
The department is “an active participant” in the panel’s discussions, and it will fully consider the report’s recommendations and “will continue to work with them and the Legislature,” department spokeswoman Toni Schwartz said in a statement.
The department didn’t respond to the newspaper’s several requests for interviews with Director Nolan Espinda on if an oversight commission could help address problems at prison facilities.