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House questions TCF and DPS about multiple escapes from the correctional facility


Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Fourth day of business at the House of Representatives involved a hearing with the House Committee of Public Safety and Tafuna Correctional Facility (TCF) officials over concerns of the multiple escapes from confinement by inmates and the status of the prison wall that many in the community have pointed to as being ‘at fault’.

Appearing before the committee were the warden of TCF, Papali’i Marion Fitisemanu, Director of the Department of Corrections, Tauanu’u Semu Faisiota Tauanu’u and the Director of Public Works, Faleosina Voigt.

 The hearing started with Faipule Fetu Fetui Jr. citing the latest escape of the inmate, Joeita Fa’aliga, and how the escape of another inmate could possibly cause potential harm to law-abiding citizens in the community. After the faipule voiced his frustrations, he then asked both Fitisemanu and Tauanu’u why the escape of this particular inmate is a common occurrence.

Tauanu’u replied that he knows Fetui is referring to ‘Joeita Fa’aliga’, and stated that Fa’aliga “has a pending status and that when he gets hungry or there would not be enough food, he would escape the confinements of TCF.”

He further revealed that “investigations were conducted in Fa’aliga’s holding cell, where they discovered rebar’s that he used to pick the locks.”

To resolve that issue, Tauanu’u disclosed that he and the warden would purchase new locks and change them out, but to no avail as Fa’aliga would always succeed in breaking out.

In addition, Tauanu’u reported that “this particular inmate also has outside connections whenever he would escape, that would aid in his attempts, as he was once caught after buying beer.”

Faipule Fetui then referenced that during his time as a corrections officer at TCF, if an inmate was to pull stunts like this, they would receive some form of physical punishment, Fetui then asked the warden if there were any shackles to aid in detaining an inmate that has escaped multiple times.

 “There are shackles available, but they are primarily used on inmates we are transporting to the court and that’s every day, which makes the shackles limited in quantity, but we don’t use the shackles on the inmates when they are in their holding cells,” stated Fitisemanu.

Fitisemanu went on to include other details affecting their effectiveness in containing inmates saying, “Currently, there are 326 inmates at the TCF, and only 12 correctional officers assigned in one shift.

“We have some officers that do not show up due to personal emergencies or sickness, which in turn often leaves a shift with only 3- 4 officers on duty.

“There are also 202 inmates with a pending status in court, which overwhelms the ratio of inmates to correctional officers on duty,” claims Fitisemanu.

 “So if there is one officer assigned to where they are housing 202 inmates with a pending status, there are requirements to bring inmates out and return them to their cells, but with one officer on duty, it makes it difficult for that one officer to keep track of all inmates.

“Other officers are also female, and cover the female holding cells, which brings that number (of officers on duty) lower, that is what each shift deals with on a daily basis,” stated Fitisemanu.

He divulged even further that “when they perform a head count in a wing of the facility, and it’s just one officer, that one officer will have to carry those duties out on their own.

“And when (that one) officer carries out these duties, inmates would use that as an opportunity to conspire in finding new methods of escaping, like scaling the wall encircling TCF.”

Fetui then asked Director Voigt whether a request from the Department of Corrections was made for an upgrade of the wall, and Voigt responded, “They have a budget submitted to the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) that will go towards building the wall and also funding for correctional officers’ pay, and that they are currently waiting to receive the award from ARPA.”

Faipule Sauasetoa brought up that his district, Ituau, and Tulauta would be heavily afflicted by these inmates escaping in addition to homes and business being robbed by these inmates, and then asked for confirmation of inmates receiving help from outside connections.

Tauanu’u responded “We received reports and conducted investigations that revealed there are vehicles that park outside by the wall which fuels their suspicions that that’s how the inmates are getting help and smuggling other items into the facility such as cellphones and food.”

He added, “Cameras have also been installed in the compound, and the visitation center last Thursday in order to help catch these outside connections aiding the inmates.”

Sauasetoa then inquired whether or not they’ve identified the individuals responsible for helping the inmates, and Tauanu’u said “They have not identified or apprehended these individuals.” Sauasetoa then asked Tauanu’u for solutions in addressing this problem.

 “Since October, we’ve been conducting stakeouts, utilizing my own staff for these stakeouts and help from other police officers in monitoring vehicles of these individuals helping inmates sneak in unclaimed items,” said Tauanu’u.

Tauanu’u pointed out that “they’ve also conducted two surveys with Public Works on the back part of the wall on December 8, 2022,” and in an email received last week confirmed that their proposal is now with the lawyer of the ARPA and that it has been approved for $40,000 to assist with patching up that part of the wall, along with adding barbed wire.

(Samoa News notes that the ‘patching up’ would involve adding height to the back wall, which reportedly is ‘low’ and allows prisoners to easily get over the wall.)