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Parole board fails at its job— 9 mos since hearings

Currently there are only three active board members on the parole board, with two members who are constantly off island, which is why there have been no parole hearings in the last nine months, according to a letter received by Samoa News from a Tafuna Correctional Facility inmate.

A letter from TCF inmate Mike Agasiva says the Parole statute permits the parole board to meet every six months, to consider applications from eligible inmates. However the last parole hearing was in June 2011.

Agasiva in his letter states that there are only three board members left and since two of them have been undergoing medical checkups off- island, there are not enough parole board members for a quorum to hold parole hearings.

“Perhaps it’s time to consider the reappointment of additional members so the board can function and move forward with its duties required by law,” says Agasiva in his letter.

The inmate also appealed to Governor Togiola Tulafono to make an impromptu visit to the Tafuna Correctional Facility.

He said the TCF is not only over-crowded, but when 5-6 inmates sleep on the cement floor without mattresses in a 10X10 cell, it constitutes “cruel-and-unusual punishment”.

Agasiva added that there are other civil-rights violations ”beyond the Governor’s imagination” involving the mentally impaired and physically disabled individuals at the TCF.

The inmate concluded his letter stating that TCF needs parole board action as soon as possible.

Inquiries about the parole board by Samoa News found that aside from the lack of quorum for parole hearings, there are also two vacancies on the board, which would bring the total to a five-member board. The governor has yet to appoint any nominees for the vacant positions, a fact confirmed by a parole officer who wished not to be named.

The parole officer, in response to Samoa News queries on the status of the parole board, said the last parole hearing was held in June of last year.

The officer added that the board is supposed to meet every six months, however that has not happened. “The three members of the board have not been here in the territory at the same time. That is why there has been no parole hearing held... because there is no quorum.”

Currently, “there is only one board member on island, while the other two are still off island”, said the parole officer.

The three sitting parole board members are Chairman Reverend Ned Ripley, Malaki Togiola and Reverend Fa’atui Laolagi.

Samoa News asked the parole office when was the last time the two board vacancies were filled, and the officer replied that it’s been too long since the two vacancies have been filled.

The governor’s Legal Counsel Douglas Fiaui said the issue concerning parole board members is still pending. He said now that the Fono has been called back into special session, he’s hopeful it will be addressed.

“Hopefully it allows for the appointments of statutory board members and committees during this special session. This is something that is still on our list and we are looking forward to addressing these issues soon,” said Fiaui.

(Samoa News notes that the governor’s call for a special session also included executive appointments to boards. It is unclear if the parole board will be one of those boards. Special Sessions are used only for what the governor asks to be addressed. )

A family member of an inmate who is eligible for parole told Samoa News that the statutory and constitutional rights of inmates and parolees are depressingly affected when the Parole Board does not have enough members to have a quorum for a hearing.

 “Just because they are convicted of crimes, doesn’t mean they have no rights” said the family member.