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Living conditions at the TCF are getting worse, say insiders

The smiling faces of some prisoners after their Samoan Day last year. Attorneys and DPS personnel have confirmed to Samoa News that prisoners are not getting enough to eat, and sleeping arrangements are of a low standard. [photo: AF]

Family members of several inmates who are serving time at the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF) are lodging complaints against the American Samoa Government, specifically the Department of Public Safety (DPS), for failing to fulfill their obligation of feeding and taking care of inmates while they are under their care.

Efforts to obtain a comment yesterday from the DPS were unsuccessful. Samoa News  also sent an email to Police Commissioner, Le’i Sonny Thompson who returned home last Friday night but there was no response as of press time.

It has been months since Samoa News started receiving complaints from family members of some inmates, claiming there is a food shortage at the TCF, which has resulted in them having to provide food twice a week or more — depending on requests by family-inmates.

Samoa News was told by some family members that TCF provides 3 meals a day comprising a cup of tea in the morning for breakfast, two scoops of rice and a small piece of fish for lunch; and another cup of tea in the evening for dinner.

An attorney from the Public Defender’s Office confirmed to Samoa News that this is true.

During his many visits to the TCF to see his clients, the attorney said he has witnessed how poor the conditions are, with inmates sleeping on the cement and not having enough food.

“How can a grown man be fed two scoops of rice and a small piece of fish almost every day? That’s ridiculous and it's criminal. The government must do its job of feeding these people well and taking good care of them, instead of just throwing them behind bars and leaving them there to starve,” the attorney said, adding that during interviews with his clients at the prison, he has been told that family members are providing food and necessities twice a week, and these items are being shared with other prisoners who don't have family members visiting them and bringing stuff.

An inmate who appeared in the High Court for a hearing last week told Samoa News that the situation at the prison has gotten worse. He said they only get a cup of tea or a cup of noodles at night, and it's not enough for him.

A concerned mother of an inmate who is serving a 15-year straight sentence told Samoa News that it's heartbreaking to hear how inmates are being treated in prison, as far as the food they get and their sleeping arrangements. And for these reasons, her family provides food and other basic necessities twice a week for her son who's serving time at the TCF.

“We provided the pillow, sheets, mat, toothbrush and toothpaste for my son, and he shares it with other prisoners who also have a need for such items. This is not our responsibility, to provide food for my son in jail. It’s the government's duty.

“The government prosecuted my son for his crime, and it’s their responsibility to take care of him and all other inmates who are serving time at the prison. They should treat my son and all inmates at the TCF like any other human being.

“They are not animals, they are sons and daughters who are loved by their families. They deserve to be treated in a loving manner, despite being convicted of whatever crimes — they all have human rights and they need to be cared for and loved,” the concerned mother said.

A young woman whose husband is serving a 5-year sentence at the TCF for drugs echoed the same sentiments.

She told Samoa News that every weekend when she visits her husband, he always requests more food for him and other inmates who are housed with him in the same room. The woman said she feels sorry for husband when he tells her how they are treated in prison. According to him, they are only served a cup of tea in the morning and in the evening, while rice and a piece of fish or rice with curry mixed with canned fish is served during lunch.

A security guard at the TCF confirmed to Samoa News the ‘horrible’ situation at the prison. He said their food supply is just not enough, and sometimes when there is no food in the storage room, the former Warden would use his own money to buy cases of chicken or cases of turkey tail with bags of rice to feed the inmates.

“This is not new, it's been there for years,” the security guard said. “Most of the inmates depend on their families during weekend visitation to bring more food for them, and some families bring food throughout the week.”