Probation Officer: Not much correction going on at TFC
Illegal drugs such as marijuana and methamphetamine and homemade brew exist at the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF), according to testimony by the territory’s Chief Probation Officer Silivelio Iosefo, given before the High Court yesterday morning, during the probation review of defendants Tupolo Junior Hodges and Leanava Se’evaetasi.
Presiding over the hearing was Chief Justice Michael Kruse, who was accompanied on the bench by Associate Judge Mamea Sala Jr and Associate Judge Fa’amausili Pomele.
Sevaaetasi is jailed on a conviction of second-degree burglary and property damage in connection with the break-in and theft at a store in Tula and is currently serving 28 months in jail as part of his seven years probation.
Hodges is in jail following his voluntary guilty plea to unlawful possession of a controlled substance, namely methamphetamine, with the intent to distribute. He was jailed for 40 months as a condition of his ten years probation.
Iosefo has filed a motion with the High Court for early release for the defendants to be placed under the Probation’s Office supervision.
TUPOLO JUNIOR HODGES
The Chief Probation Officer testified that since Hodges was sentenced to jail in November 2010, he and his office have made visitations on a monthly basis and sometimes bi-weekly.
Iosefo said that 11 drug tests were conducted on Hodges with the latest test December 29, last year, which all came back negative, and that he’s met with Hodges on many occasions, which has led him to the conclusion — his opinion notwithstanding the seriousness of the crime that Hodges is in jail for — that he has truly repented and learned a lesson.
“I have spent many times with him (Hodges), sometimes even after hours, counseling him with the hope of ascertaining from these discussions his remorse, which is why I decided to present this motion into the honorable court for consideration”, said Iosefo.
After meeting with Warden Maifea Lumana’i, the Chief Probation Officer said he’s of the opinion that Hodges is now a model prisoner and given the state of the Territorial Correctional Facility, he’s asked the court to release Hodges under his supervision.
“In the recent past there have been, I believe two or three drug tests of certain inmates in the TCF… that I was fairly surprised to find that the majority of those inmates were tested and gave a positive for either marijuana or methamphetamine.
“There was also an indication that two inmates were positive and had the presence of the oxycodone drug, which upon further investigation that drug is considered a controlled substance in the territory”. (Oxycodone is a pain killer)
He added that oxycodone can be prescribed by a duly licensed physician and inmates were able to procure a prescription from the hospital for back pain.
The Chief Probation Officer said there is currently no counseling, nor any rehabilitation programs for anger management or drug and alcohol abuse available at the TCF.
“For Hodges, who has been directed by the court to undergo drug and alcohol counseling, he will have to wait until after serving his sentence before he gains access to drug and alcohol counseling.”
Iosefo said TCF is not a drug free place.
The Chief Probation Office said that Se’evaetasi who went into jail with no history of dealing with drugs, was coerced into smoking marijuana by his cell mates, who have been in there for a lengthy period of time.
He said that this is “another example of someone who came into prison and remains for a lengthy period of time, and will come out much worse than he went in.”
Iosefo noted that another reason why he was seeking consideration from the court is that while conducting review for probationers in jail when he was visiting, the inmate was placed in maximum security for 20 days for participating with his cell mates in drinking homemade brew.
“This is a startling revelation, I’ve never thought that beer can made in any prison, but I was told by that probationer (inmate) the owner of the brew is serving a very lengthy jail sentence for a very serious offense and just because he was a cell mate in that unit he was in one way or another coerced into partaking of the homemade brew.”
Iosefo reiterated that because of those reasons and the fact that there are no rehabilitation programs for the two inmates he has decided to take the chance by going to the court.
He noted that instead of continuing to keep Seevaetasi and Hodges in jail, they could be released under the probation’s office supervision, where they will be able to get the rehabilitation and hopefully will become law abiding citizens and be productive members of society.
Iosefo said if his memory serves him right, the TCF is only certified to have 98 inmates — however, as of Monday there are 167 inmates currently housed at TCF. “The overcrowding at TCF and also the inability to make that place a place where the citizens and residents who have wandered to the wrong side of the law, can be rehabilitated” serves as reasons to seek probation for the inmates, he said.
Iosefo added that he has also spoken to the spouses of Seevaetasi and Hodges and they are committed to helping their husbands abide by all the conditions of probation.
Public Defender Ruth Risch, who’s representing the inmates, asked Iosefo if the probation office is able to assist the defendants with attaining jobs.
The Chief Probation Officer said, in the past six months, they have successfully been able to refer probationers to the NEG program, and they are able to get jobs with this program. He explained that he’s met with the Manager of the NEG program and they are now referring probationers from the High Court and the District Court every other day.
(The National Emergency Grant hires people to work part time or full time with government agencies or private sector)
Iosefo said there is a program called the (R-SAT) Residential Substance Abuse Treatment program at the Territorial Correctly Facility, which is suppose to assist drug offenders, help them manage their anger, and there is another to help drug offenders gain knowledge of Samoan customs and traditions.
“As the Chief Probation Officer I must say those programs have absolutely no value in the rehabilitation of the drug offenders,” he stated.
“I believe that those two programs were established in haste, after the court started to make a lot of noise about the RSAT program and the federal money that’s funding the program and how it was spent, and this time I don’t think these programs are available.”
(According to the U.S. Department of Justice website, the Residential Substance Abuse Treatment Program or R-SAT, is a federally funded program under the USDOJ. The RSAT assists states and local governments in implementing substance abuse treatment programs in correctional and detention facilities. The goal of the program is to break the cycle of drugs and violence, by reducing the demand for, use, and trafficking of illegal drugs.)
Public Defender Ruth Risch Fuatagavi asked Iosefo if there are any other programs offered such as a half-way house or any other probation options besides the correctional facility.
The Chief Probation Officer responded that “back in April 7, 1999, then Governor Tauese Sunia signed into law an act that allows the use of electronic monitoring, as well as the establishment of a half-way house, giving the Commissioner of Public Safety the duty to establish a half-way house and the duties to procure monitoring devices that can be used by the court, in its dealings with probationers.
(A half-way house is a law enforcement controlled house, used for several reasons — such as, for ex cons that do not have a home and are on parole, for witness holding, for police protection, etc).
Iosefo said, “There is a law and it was House Bill 26-9, enacted during the 26th Legislature in its first regular session.”
Both inmates pleaded with the court for a chance to return to their families. Fuatagavi recommended to the court to release her clients under the supervision of the probation office, who will monitor the defendants closely.
Assistant Attorney General Celia Reyna did not object to the release of Leanava Se’evaetasi, but strongly objected to releasing drug defendant Tupolo Hodges.
She noted Hodges has been in jail half his life; and it appears that he can’t seem to stay out of jail, and he’s a danger to the society.
The Chief Justice said he will take the motion of probation under advisement. “It’s one of those situations where you are damned if you do, and damned if you don’t,” he said.
Kruse pointed out that from the testimony of the Chief Probation Officer our so called correctional facility is becoming less and less a correctional facility. He said that walking away from an issue will not solve an issue.
“The correctional facility is less of a correction facility, but more of a warehouse where bodies are taken in and we forget about them,” he stated.
Before closing the hearing, the CJ ordered the prosecutor to provide the court with the TCF rules and regulations governing work release for the inmates