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Police Commissioner says budget to feed inmates is insufficient

And, there is no budget to even buy supplies, such as toilet paper

Police Commissioner Le’i Sonny Thompson told a House committee that the approved fiscal year 2017 budget to cover “inmate food” at the Territorial Correctional Facility is “not even sufficient” to provide three daily meals a day, seven days a week, for the entire year.

Currently, the inmate population is 194 and the approved FY 2017 budget is $110,000 — which is a drop from  $136,000 in FY 2016. And the FY 2017 food budget is also to help with food items for the 14 youths currently housed at the Juvenile Detention Center.

Now “let’s say,” for example, it costs around $30 a day to feed each inmate at TCF providing three meals a day, Le’i said. The total cost just for one day to feed the current 194 inmates is $5,820 per day — so times that by the total amount of days in a year, 365 days (unless it’s a leap year), that comes to around $2.12 million.

Therefore, he said the FY 2017 budget is “not even sufficient” to feed inmates, unless the meal is “only a piece of bread and a glass of water”; and he quickly reminded lawmakers that inmates are human beings, and their rights are protected under the law and the government is responsible — under the law — to provide them with food.

Le’i, along with TCF Warden, Comdr. Foifua Foifua and Criminal Justice Planning Agency (CJPA) director Leseiau Laumoli appeared yesterday before the House Public Safety Committee after House Vice Speaker Fetu Fetui Jr., received concerned reports regarding problems with food for the inmates.

Le’i noted the FY 2017 provides for inmate food, leaving no funding for other expenses, such as supplies for TCF — for example, toilet paper.

According to the police commissioner when he took over the post he received information that the previous leadership had stopped providing breakfast for inmates and he is not clear for the reasons behind it, but he suspects it all has to do with the lack of funding.

Among the 194 inmates — sixty-six of them have a case pending in court, five of them have immigration related matters, seven individuals are housed in a separate part of the TCF dealing with substance abuse services, and the rest are inmates serving time. 

Of the five individuals held in custody due to immigration matters, Le’i suggested that maybe the Immigration Office should contribute their share in feeding these inmates.

Samoa News points out that over the years, there were times when the TCF population was up to 220 inmates.

The committee was also informed by Le’i that in the past, TCF had no cook, and it’s just recently that CJPA approved funding to hire a cook for TCF, and a janitor for the Juvenile Detention Center, which has a cook, but funding for their food supply comes from the main TCF inmate food budget. 

At this time, the Education Department is helping the Juvenile Detention Center with breakfast for the youngsters housed at the facility.

Le’i said he has been given TCF’s inmate food item list, which includes things such as cases of mackerel (pilikaki) and cases of turkey tails; and looking at the list, that means food to feed the inmates is “kaleve pilikaki (mackerel gravy), but there are many inmates who suffer from gout, therefore it’s a sure thing that these particular inmates will be in need of hospital treatment.

There are also cases of chicken and bags of rice on the food list, but again the approved budget is insufficient, he said, and noted that he has received word that family members of inmates visiting TCF also help by bringing food. (Family members of two inmates told Samoa News recently that on the weekends, especially on Sundays, they take extra food for other inmates, as some of them rarely get visits from friends or relatives.)

Le’i said he has informed the TCF Warden and other DPS officials that inmates have individual rights under the law and among those rights is that they receive food and are to be taken care of in a decent manner.

He also said that he is not sure why providing breakfast was previously halted but there should be breakfast — even if it’s limited, for example, maybe to one egg, along with another food item.

Le’i also told lawmakers of a previous practice, in which the food supply was purchased to cover three months, but the problem is that “there is no accountability where that food is going” and “there’s no procedures to follow” to make sure the purchase is based on the available budget.

Now, the food supply is ordered once a month, he said and suggested the committee give him a month to work with DPS officials as well as Fo’ifua to address this issue, and when called back by the committee, he would then be able to provide an update.

He also revealed that DPS is working on a supplemental appropriation request to the governor for DPS. However, he didn’t provide any other details, but he did remind lawmakers that the $110,000 is only for inmate food — there is no money to purchase supplies and other needs to adequately take care of the inmates.

Of the total money budgeted for inmate food, Le’i said that to date, $39,000 has been expended.

And in an effort to further improve service at TCF, Le’i said the government has recently approved the post of a deputy warden, which will be filled by a veteran police officer, who has been with DPS for sometime now.