Walter Mills, 43, a Kauai Community Correctional Center inmate who escaped from jail Thursday night, is also accused of multiple robberies and carjackings Friday.
Mills was recently sentenced to five years in prison, and has several convictions on his record.
Yet he was still housed in a minimum-security facility and considered a low-risk inmate.
What kind of security is at the Kauai facility, and what factors determine if an inmate is low-risk?
We’ve learned that Mills was about to be transferred to Halawa Correctional Facility to serve his time. A state lawmaker says considering that and his criminal history, Mills should have been locked up in a more secure facility.
There are actually two levels of security at the KCCC, according to the Hawaii Department of Public Safety.
The inner facility is stricter with more supervision, and usually houses pretrial detainees, so all the inmates there are in locked cells. The outer facility has no fencing and is for lower-risk inmates who live in portables, almost like a dormitory setting.
DPS says Mills was in the outer facility because he was considered low-risk, a minimum custody inmate.
“It would seem that you would want someone who is a career criminal to be kept in a much more secured area especially when you’ve already determined that you’re going to move him to Halawa,” said state Sen. Will Espero, D, vice chair of the Senate public safety committee.
We looked up his criminal record and found 14 convictions, which include forging a credit card, theft, and abuse of a household member.
“If he was in that minimum-security area, was that the right call? Because it obviously appears that it was not the right place to be,” Espero said.
Mills’ criminal record goes back more than 20 years. Given that, we’re pressing the Department of Public Safety to explain why he was considered a low-risk inmate.
We tried to get a state official to talk to us on camera, but a spokeswoman turned down our request.
She did say over the phone that DPS uses a national scoring system to determine the level of risk for all inmates, which considers their criminal record, their behavior, and several other factors.
State Rep. James Tokioka, who represents the area, says the facility has a good track record of rehabilitating inmates into society.
“Obviously something fell through the cracks here,” he said. “I don’t know what, but we just need to figure out what happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Tokioka adds that like other prisons, KCCC is also overcrowded. It’s supposed to hold 129 inmates, and there are 198.
“That cannot be something that’s very safe or secure,” Tokioka said.