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Former police commissioner adds his support for a separate corrections agency

Le'i Sonny Thompson
Governor nominates Tauanuu Semu Faisiota Taunuu as director

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Former Police Commissioner, Le’i Sonny Thompson is in support of the move by the current Administration to separate the Territorial Correctional Facility from under the umbrella of the Department of Public Safety (DPS).

 “One of my concerns during my time as the Commissioner of Public Safety was to make sure that TCF was adequately provided with all the necessary funding to provide sufficient personnel with adequate pay; supplies, food, improve housing and living conditions and most important established rehabilitation programs to help inmates cope and correct issues and behaviors which caused them to be incarcerated in the first place,“ he said.

TCF’s Budget at present is included under Public Safety and it is not enough, Le’i answered in response to questions from Samoa News,

Adding that TCF is being managed by “Police officers and [that] presents a great deal of conflict. The TCF should be managed by Correctional Officers. I have had numerous discussions with other territories commissioners about this very issue of having our TCF stand alone as a Department of Corrections.”

In June, Governor Lemanu Peleti Mauga issued an Executive Order to separate the Territorial Correctional Facility and Juvenile Detention Center from DPS and be overseen by the newly created American Samoa Corrections Agency, while awaiting the establishment of the Department of Corrections through legislation.

According to Le’i there is already section 40 under title ASCA 46, just remove that section and use that as the rules and laws to operate, he suggested.  

 “In fact I submitted a request through the Fono relative to this matter with all the supporting documentation. Like other territories they have agreement with the federal government to assist one another with the management and utilization.  

“We need financial assistance if we’re serious about rehabilitation and to return these people to productive members of our society. In short, I’ve always supported having TCF change to the Department of Corrections and be a stand alone,” said the former Police Commissioner.

Last week the Senate submitted for approval a resolution for Gov Lemanu’s nomination of Tauanuu Semu Faisiota Taunuu as Director for the American Samoa Corrections Agency. Lemanu pointed out Tauanuu’s years of military service includes experience with safety, security, and intelligence.

 “His civilian career includes airport security and property management for our House of Representatives. Director Tauanuu’s background and experience make him an ideal leader of the Corrections Agency.

 “Although this agency is created by Executive Order and confirmation is not required, I value the added credibility legislative approval would provide Director Tauanuu,” said Lemanu.

According to the Governor’s Executive Order the Warden shall oversee the operations of TCF, the Juvenile Detention Center, and any other location where inmates are confined. For those inmates who are assigned to the LBJ Medical Center’s Behavior Health Unit, the Warden shall have joint responsibility for security with the hospital, according to provisions of the governor’s order.

Other duties and powers of the Warden:

•           maintain safe and secure facilities for the confinement of those committed to the Corrections Agency;

•           ensure that persons committed to the Corrections Agency receive adequate food, shelter and medical care;

•           establish and enforce written standards to ensure compliance with the federal Prison Rate Elimination Act;

•           cooperate with rehabilitative efforts of the American Samoa Government including ASG’s Comprehensive Substance Abuse Council established by executive order this year;

•           admit all prisoners who are lawfully arrested by any officer who has the power of arrest unless that prisoner requires emergency medical treatment;

•           transport inmates to hearings at any time and place required by any court of American Samoa; and

•           hold any person who is sentenced to confinement for the duration of their lawful confinement.

The corrections and rehabilitation are specialized functions that are distinct from those typically associated with law enforcement and “it is imperative for our correctional institution to maintain a safe and secure environment.”

And it’s the desire of ASG “to focus on improving the security of our community by establishing a separate corrections agency.”

The new agency comes amid concerns over the years with problems within TCF, including inmates who escape from confinement, alleged mistreatment of prisoners, overcrowding and inmates who test positive for illegal drugs.

And there have been suggestions from lawmakers in the past years for the establishment of a separate government entity to oversee TCF, with its’ own set budget.