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40 Big Island inmates flown to Oahu on Hawaii Army Guard helicopters

OAHU COMMUNITY CORRECTIONAL CENTER (State of Hawaii Department of Public Safety/Released)

Overcrowding at Hawaii Community Correctional Center—and the need to transport 40 felons from the Hilo jail and Kulani Correctional Facility to the Halawa Correctional Facility on Oahu—prompted the state Department of Public Safety to seek Hawaii Army National Guard CH-47 Chinook helicopter transport Tuesday.

The Hawaii Guard moved the inmates “without incident ” on two Chinooks, Public Safety said. Corrections officers and deputy sheriffs provided in-flight and ground transport security.

“The Hawaii National Guard has worked with the Department of Public Safety throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, ” Maj. Gen. Ken S. Hara, the state’s adjutant general, said in a release. “This is an example of one state department successfully partnering with another. This transport mission is critical to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Hawaii’s prison system.”

Of the 40 inmates who flew to Oahu, 20 were from HCCC and 20 were from KCF.

Normally, Public Safety contracts charter aircraft to move multiple inmates to Halawa, but that was not possible with a move of this magnitude, said spokeswoman Toni Schwartz. Federal CARES Act funding was used for the transport.

“Moving these sentenced felons helped to free up more space for the pretrial custodies at HCCC, ” said Public Safety Director Max Otani.

Only inmates who were vaccinated for COVID-19, and /or tested negative prior to transport, and deemed medically cleared to travel were considered, officials said. Halawa placed the newly admitted inmates in an intake quarantine, The Hawaii National Guard conducts a multitude of missions—and has helped Public Safety before. Citizen soldiers supported Public Safety in 1997 on a Maui-to-Oahu movement and in 2008 with the transport of law enforcement for a counterdrug mission from Maui to Oahu, said Hawaii National Guard spokesman Jeff Hickman.

Some National Guard soldiers were activated in the 1970s for rioting in the prison system, Hickman said.

The Hawaii National Guard was a pioneer in the war on drugs, flying Huey helicopters in support of a big law enforcement roundup of cannabis plants in a 1977 Hawaii island operation called Green Harvest.

Hawaii Guard troops deployed to Iraq and Kuwait, participated in Kauai flood and Big Island lava duty, performed coronavirus temperature checks at state airports and had two rounds of security duty at the U.S. Capitol in the winter and spring.

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