Governor visits jail, calls conditions “unbelievable”
“Part of the problem at the jail is that it’s a dumping ground for the police department,” said Governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga during a briefing with DPS officials about the problems at the Tafuna Correctional Facility — when the governor visited the jail yesterday.
Governor Lolo was referring to personnel changes within Public Safety, referring to the fact that when a police officer does something wrong they are assigned to the jail. Instead, the governor said, those who work at the jail should be certified and trained to work with inmates.
The governor was accompanied by his key staff during this visit. Media were invited to tour the jail along with the governor.
During his visit Lolo saw first hand how 47 male inmates are all housed in one small building, with 4-5 inmates in one cell and there is a total of 13 cellblocks.
In a briefing given by former Warden Lumana’i Maifea (who’s now assigned to the DPS records office), Maifea said the jail is over-crowded, and there are close to 100 foreigners who were sentenced to depart the territory, yet they have no proper documents to leave.
According to Maifea, there are also inmates, who have finished serving their time, yet refuse to leave jail; and, those who are mentally challenged and are serving time with regular inmates, instead of being housed at a mental facility. These are just some of issues the jail faces and contributes to the poor conditions at the prison, he noted.
Acting Warden Foifua Foifua Jr said the government should go after the immigration sponsors of inmates who are incarcerated, because under statute, it’s the sponsors who are financially responsible for these inmates — for their medical expenses, as well as for their food. He said it’s costly for the government to be paying for these foreigners in prison.
Commissioner William Bill Haleck told the governor that the problem at the jail is not with the inmates; rather it’s the correction officers who do not uphold their sworn oath when becoming correction and police officers.
He assured the governor that an internal investigation has been conducted and those from TCF who failed to carry out their duties are being held responsible for their actions.
Two officers have been terminated, while others are on suspension. “We are slowly addressing the issues of officers,” he told the governor.
Regarding the meals, former Warden Maifea told the governor that TCF inmates are the most “spoiled inmates” because they are well fed.
“Currently we have in stock, ground beef, chicken wings, turkey tails and wings, sausages and saimin, which they have for dinner,” he said.
(Samoa News should point out that the community is known to fondly refer to the prison as "Tafuna Hilton" — making note of it's "excellent meals and accommodations" for its guests.)
The governor was also informed that currently the TCF does not have butane gas to cook their food and they are using a Samoan cooking house (umu) to cook their meals.
In response to Samoa News queries, the governor said visiting the jail was among his top priorities, however he had to tend to other critical areas when he first took office, like fixing the roads and the classrooms.
He said there are a lot of issues within the jail and he wants to assure that inmates' rights have not been violated while they are in the custody. He said the conditions at the jail are “not livable and the inmates deserve to live in more decent living conditions; it’s just unbelievable.”
Another issue the governor looked at was programs the government can provide to help the inmates when they leave prison and return home and seek employment.
“We have not really been paying attention to the inmates and yet we should,” Lolo said. “Just because they violated the law does not mean they are to be treated this way.”
In regards to over-crowding at TCF for male inmates, Governor Lolo has order DPW Director Faleosina Voight to act upon constructing the new jail which is to be located between the juvenile facility and the TCF.
At the same time, he has stopped a move by the Department of Public Works and DPS to build a temporary jail to house inmates while they work on a permanent jail. Lolo said this would cost the government money that they don’t have.
The governor said he will meet with the key people on this project: Acting AG Eleasalo Ale, PD Douglas Fiaui, Governor’s Executive Assistant Iulogologo Joseph Pereira, Chief of Staff Fiu Johnny Saelua, Governor’s Legal Counsel Steve Watson, the DPS Commissioner and DPW Director to have the new permanent jail underway.
Also at this meeting the governor said he’s looking at having the AG and PD’s office look at what needs to be done to assure that foreigners who are “stuck” at TCF due to the lack of proper documents are able to depart the territory, as soon as possible.