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Parole Board finally meets, hears testimony from nine inmates

After a year of no parole hearings, the parole board finally met last Wednesday in which parole board members heard testimony from nine inmates and their families.

The five Parole Board members are Chairman Reverend Ned Ripley, Ipu Avegalio Lefiti, Uso Lago’o, Tauai Suiaunoa and Charlie Togiola, and all five were present. The last parole hearing was held in June 2011, and the delay of parole hearings was given the fact there had not been enough members for a quorum.

Of the nine inmates, six were denied parole while three were released.

Board member Ipu Avegalio Lefiti, who was recently appointed as a board member, said  after sitting in the parole hearings for the first time, that there are several issues she observed, and one issue which did not sit well with her was Commander Lumana’i Maifea’s testimony to members of the board that the Tafuna Correctional Facility is overcrowded.

Lefiti said another issue that caught her attention was the fact there are no professional psychiatric evaluations to determine the extent of sanity of the inmates who are eligible for parole, and no treatment for sex offenders. She said she believes these are not issues for the board to consider.

“‘I believe that these are issues the government needs to resolve,” she told Samoa News.

She added that it is her understanding that due to the overcrowding problem at TCF, the criminals will serve less time and the justice system will be just a revolving door for the sake of the funding to keep doors open.

“Punishment will be a joke, escape and evasion tag teams will increase and every convicted person will be secure with the knowledge that he or she will be automatically paroled out after serving 1/3 of their time,” said Avegalio.

She added the only treatment currently available for domestic violence offenders is from the Department of Human Social Services through anger management, alcoholic and substance counseling.  

“The government appears to lean heavily on the religious groups visiting and sharing the gospel instead of investing in contracting psych professionals, masters degree social counselors and case workers to treat sex offenders and family violence offenders.

“The inmates are coming out well versed in salvation, forgiveness, repentance, etc.,” she said, then asked, “however, who is teaching them the realities of how to re-enter society?”

She said, in the short time of observing the parole hearings, if the government does not step in and address these issues, “we are in a society that is waiting to implode.”

Among the three inmates paroled was former police officer Jerry Sauni.

In June 2010, Sauni was sentenced to serve five years behind bars for his role in the missing evidence case that led to the dismissal of a drug case.

In a plea agreement with the government the former cop pled guilty to five of the 44 original counts — embezzlement, tampering with physical evidence, possession of a prohibited weapon, unlawful possession of ammunition and tampering with public records. The remaining counts were dismissed.

Chief Justice Michael Kruse sentenced Sauni to five years in prison for each felony count and one year for each misdemeanor, the sentences to run concurrently.