Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Jail

Another interesting part of American Samoa is the jail. This isn't meant to scare anyone from coming to American Samoa. And I don't even want to fault the Samoans; each system has its benefits and problems, that's for sure.

Our neighbors down the street are both public defenders. They inform us that the front gate of the jail is never locked. Nice.

Apparently, the rule has been that if a prisoner is not back to the jail by curfew, the police go to their house and take them back. It's a simple system.

You might even notice that the sign on the gate that is covering part of the white van announces to the public that the jail has "fresh cabbage - $1" for sale. Yes, the jail has a garden! And the prisoners keep that garden up so nicely; it must be the nicest garden on the entire island (I have to say I have not bought cabbage from the jail yet).

Another attorney friend (you see, when you're an attorney, you have a lot of attorney friends) told us that before one of the hurricanes that hit the island, the prison guards, afraid they were unable to take care of the prisoners, sent them all home. On one condition. They all must come back after the hurricane. And they all did.

I'm telling ya, this is a different world down here.

When I drove up, prisoners (I'm assuming they were prisoners) were playing rugby in the rain on the prison grounds. They're usually playing basketball, rugby, or some other sport. Again, I emphasize: no guards.

I don't know if I mentioned that the local Ace Hardware sells machetes? Well, apparently the prisoners need machetes to occasionally trim the weeds, plants, etc. Strange? Dangerous? I haven't heard of any problems so far.

The judge I worked for last year will just love this next one. Recently, one of the judges I work for expressed his dissatisfaction with the police department. Why? He was frustrated that he was passing defendants in the hallways of the courthouse with no guards, no shackles, etc. I guess this practice has recently changed. However, I'm not so sure. I recently watched the arraignment of a young woman charged with one count child abuse, one count child abandonment. She had not posted bail; her attorney even argued for and was granted a very significant bail reduction. Yet she wore civilian clothes, was not handcuffed, and essentially looked like someone who had already posted bail. After she pled not guilty, she was accompanied out into the hallway with her family, who then handed her a young child (who I am assuming was one of her other children). The bailiff sat patiently to the side, waiting for family to talk, before calmly whisking the defendant away.

Other stories I hear are rumors, but worth mentioning. One toilet to a mass jail cell (a problem which I hear has been solved), and one female guard watching a building of many burly men (again, probably solved).

Recently, one of the judges I work for received a letter from the headmaster at the jail. The headmaster was concerned because he had not received the conviction/sentence paperwork of many of the individuals in the jail, and therefore had no idea when some of them were supposed to be paroled. I was to write a letter to the headmaster, asking for a complete list of names of individuals with this problem, and to send a copy to the attorney general and public defender's office to have the problem fixed within a week.

I don't want to come across as a complainer. I'm not. But the observations I make here are interesting, to say the least. I've never felt so safe in the United States as I do here. I think the Samoans are, on the whole, uniquely friendly, nonviolent individuals.

I have also never experienced the law like it is done here, and perhaps never will again. I think I will have learned many lessons once I finish my clerkship that will help me for the rest of my legal career.


ABQ Mom said...

It's always interesting to hear how other countries work. After reading this post and how the jail is run it made me think if maybe the reason there is SO much violence in the jails and so much protection here is because we don't give the prisoners the benefit of the doubt for a lack of a better phrase.

But I remember a few samoan's I had met at Ricks and even though their size scared me they really seemed like big teddy bears. So maybe what you said about them just being nicer there could be true.