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Officials: Inmates barricade themselves, set fire and riot at HCCC

  • JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald Police responded to what they described as a “riot” Tuesday afternoon at Hawaii Community Correctional Center in Hilo and directed traffic around the response scene.

The Hawaii Police Department, Hawaii Fire Department and state Sheriff’s Division responded late Tuesday afternoon to what police described as a “riot” at Hawaii Community Correctional Center in Hilo.

State Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Toni Schwartz said that at about 3:45 p.m., inmates in the A-wing of the Waianuenue housing module set a fire and barricaded doors, prompting jail officials to call outside help to quell the disturbance.

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Police described the situation as a “brawl” and added the cause “has not yet been determined,” nor was there a damage estimate by press time.

Schwartz said correctional officers from HCCC and Kulani Correctional Facility, a minimum security prison about 20 miles southeast of Hilo, were among the responders.

According to Schwartz, the corrections officers “used non-lethal means to subdue inmates, gain compliance and bring order back to the housing unit by 5:30 p.m.”

Schwartz said DPS and police are investigating.

“There are 25 inmates in that housing wing who will all be questioned to determine what prompted the unrest and who was directly involved. Inmates found culpable will be criminally and administratively charged,” she said.

Officers blocked the intersection at Waianuenue Avenue and Komohana Street and re-directed traffic around the facility. Police said early Tuesday evening that the perimeter would be maintained while the investigation was conducted.

According to police, there were some reported injures to inmates from the affray, and corrections officers suffered smoke inhalation and respiratory issues.

No major injuries were immediately reported.

Schwartz said damage to the housing unit was being assessed early Tuesday evening and the department’s Institutions Division administrator is on his way to Hilo to assess the situation at HCCC.

Maria Cook, DPS deputy director for administration, praised HCCC Warden Cramer Mahoe and his staff “for acting swiftly to mobilize their emergency response team and to bring order back to the facility.”

Cook also acknowledged Kulani Warden Wanda Craig, her staff and all other responders for their assistance.

DPS was ordered by the state Supreme Court to release inmates convicted of or awaiting trial for nonviolent offenses from the chronically overcrowded facility because of the threat of a COVID-19 outbreak, such as the one experienced at the Oahu Community Correctional Center.

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As of Monday, the HCCC inmate population was 290, 84 inmates above its design capacity of 206. That’s down significantly from an inmate population of 355 reported on Aug. 17 and the 331 inmates confined at HCCC reported on Aug. 31.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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