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Governor signs bill creating the independent Dept. of Corrections

Gov. Lemanu P.S. Mauga
It went into effect immediately upon signing

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — It’s official. The Department of Corrections has now become independent from the Department of Public Safety, after the House bill creating the department was signed into law by the governor.

This was confirmed in a letter signed by Governor Lemanu P. S Mauga dated Dec 20, 2022 addressed to President of the Senate, Tuaolo Manaia Fruean.

“I have approved House Bill 37 - 39 an act establishing a Department of Correction and transfers the responsibility for the Tafuna correctional facility and the Juvenile Detention Center from the Department of Public Safety to the Department of Corrections.” 

This amends section 4,0301, 450103, 450350, 45.0360, 45.0361, 45.0363 chapter 10 of title 45, 46.2302, 46.2303, 46,2304, 46.2308, 46.2521, 46.2523, 46.2533 and 46.2534, A.S.C.A, and creating title 9 A.S.C.A., the governor wrote.

As reported earlier, the bill outlines that corrections and rehabilitation are specialized functions that are distinct from those typically associated with law enforcement; and it is imperative for the correctional institutions to maintain a safe and secure environment.

“The Tafuna Correctional Facility has had numerous escapes; and it is the desire of the American Samoa Government to focus on improving the security of our community by establishing a separate Department of Corrections.

 “And due to the urgent need to have the Department of Corrections up and running immediately and without delay, this Act shall become effective after passage by the Legislature and approval by the Governor.”

The bill states that the Governor shall appoint a Director of Corrections who is responsible to oversee all operations of the Department of Corrections.

 “The Director of Corrections shall assume responsibility for all inmates and juvenile detainees who are committed to the Tafuna Correctional Facility and the Juvenile Detention Center.”

The director also oversees the operations of the TCF, the JDC, and any other location in American Samoa where inmates and juvenile detainees are confined (for those inmates who are assigned to the Behavioral Health Unit, the Director of Corrections shall have joint responsibility for security with the American Samoa Medical Center); and maintains safe and secure facilities for the confinement of those who are committed to the Corrections Agency.

Among other duties of the director include “rehabilitation of inmates and juvenile detainees, 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 Prison Rape Elimination Act of 42 U.S.C.

 “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; hold any person who is sentenced to confinement for the duration of their lawful confinement, employ officers and employees necessary to carry out their duties as required by this title; and promulgate rules required to carry out the intent of this title pursuant to the Administrative Procedures Act, Section 4.1001.”

Furthermore the Director may appoint law enforcement officers who are the graduates of a police academy that was approved by the Commissioner of Public Safety or otherwise authorized by law.

“Law enforcement officers authorized under this code section may make arrests with an arrest warrant; and without a warrant for offenses that occur on property under the control of the Department of Corrections; and offenses of escape from commitment, escape from custody, escape from confinement, failure to return to confinement, aiding the escape of a prisoner, escape while on program release, intentional interfering with electronic monitoring device, resisting arrest, or an assault made by or on an inmate or juvenile detainee.”

On the issue of imposition of sentence for felony and misdemeanor, the bill says that when a sentence of imprisonment for a felony is imposed, the court shall commit the defendant to the custody of the Department of Corrections for the term imposed under 46.2301, or until released under procedures established else­where by law.

“A sentence of imprisonment for a misdemeanor shall be for a definite term and the court shall commit the defendant to the Tafuna Correctional Facility or other authorized penal institution for the term of his sentence or until released under procedures established elsewhere by law.”

In addition, the bill addresses prisoner rehab programs; federal and territorial laws on discrimination; and conditions of release comprising work release, educational and vocational release, and funeral release.

As for the Juvenile Detention Center (JDC), the bill says that the Department of Corrections establishes and operates facilities necessary for the care, education, training, treatment, and rehabilitation of those children legally committed to its custody.

The JDC facilities may include, but are not limited to group care facilities and homes, including half-way houses; training schools; conservation camps; and diagnostic and evaluation centers and receiving centers.

“The Department of Education furnishes teachers and any books or equipment needed for the proper education of the children present in the juvenile detention facility, as provided by law.”

Regarding academic and vocational courses, according to the bill it is the duty of the Department of Corrections to develop and adopt rules necessary for imparting instruction, preserving health, and enforcing discipline of children committed to the Department.

“Full credit shall be given by the Department of Education for completion of any semester, term, or year of study by any child who has earned them.”

Also that each child committed to the custody of the Department of Corrections is examined and evaluated by the Department to institutional placement or other disposition.

And when the Department of Corrections determines that child requires placement in a facility for the mentally ill or developmentally disabled, it places the child in the appropriate facility.

Another aspect of the bill indicates that every person who aids or abets any child committed to the custody of the Department of Corrections in running away from the facility, or who knowingly harbors the child, or who aids in abducting the child is guilty, upon conviction, of a class A misdemeanor.

Governor Lemanu said this bill allows the Department of Corrections to focus mainly on keeping our corrections secure and safe, especially the people of our Territory.

“This bill will go into effect immediately.

“The time and effort you and your colleagues have invested considering this very important law is greatly appreciated. May we continue to work together to address the needs of our Territory,” said Lemanu in his letter to the Senate President.