Although a previous court ruling concluded that the conditions of Koror Jail’s solitary confinement quarters violate Palau’s Constitution that forbids “torture, find cruel, pharmacy inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment”, it did not end the use of the facility. But a new case has forced the Bureau of Public Safety (BPS) to cease use of the solitary confinement in the interim.
This is after the Supreme Court granted a writ of habeas corpus in the case of inmate Suzuki Temael filed on December 4, 2014. Temael has been serving a 20-year prison sentence since 2008, and according to court information he has been detained in the “dark room” for about 8 months.
In his petition, Temael claims he is ‘suffering from deteriorating eyesight because of prolonged lack of light… kidney and urinary issues due to inability to freely use water and bathroom facilities’ and psychological disturbances believed to have been caused by long-term confinement.
“I do not have a light in my cell. I am forced to use the bathroom in bottles and bags which are almost never cleaned up”, reports Temael.
In addition to health problems, Temael claims he was not allowed out of the cell for any reason other than attorney visits and court dates. He also reports he has not showered since he was placed in the dark room.
This is not the first petition regarding the conditions of the solitary confinement quarters.
In November 2014, inmate McClain Angelino, 19, filed an emergency application for writ of habeas corpus claiming he was detained and isolated uninterrupted for three consecutive weeks in the solitary confinement cell or the dark room as referred to by prisoners.
In this particular case, Associate Justice R. Ashby Pate personally visited the site with Angelino’s attorney Assistant Public Defender Allison Jackson, Attorney General John Bradley, court staff and BPS staff. Jackson also represents Temael.
In the 30-page order in Angelino’s case, Judge Pate described the current conditions of the facility as “near total darkness”. Detailing all he witnessed he described one of the rooms he visited “strewn with trash… dank wet magazine pages, and soiled clothes.” Water bottles filled with urine were also found in the cell. The stench of urine and feces was described as “overpowering”.
He notes that there was no sink, no toilet, and no ventilation other than a small grated opening in the iron door, no bed or bedding, no light and no drain.
He concluded that not only does the condition of the solitary confinement fail to meet even the minimum standards of human decency, the manner and duration of Angelino’s confinement violates the jail’s policies and procedures.
Koror Jail rules, according to court information, requires that a prisoner in solitary confinement be allowed one hour outside of the cell each day. But in Angelino’s case he was allowed out once a week for only thirty minutes for a shower.
Division of Corrections Lieutenant Ricky Ngiraked admitted to the Court that the jail’s treatment did in fact violate its own house rules. He also disclosed that allowing the prisoner out, in this case Angelino, does not depend on his needs, but whether there is manpower to allow him to shower.
With the jail’s current location and aging structure, high-risk prisoners are reportedly housed in the dark room to prevent incidences such as escape.
Justice Minister and Vice President Antonio Bells in a press release at that time suggested that basic improvements were being made and will continue when resources are available.
In response to the conditions of the solitary confinement, he stated it is designed to be very unpleasant as the dark room “is meant to be a punishment and a deterrent for those who are already confined to jail.”
Temael is seeking injunctive relief regarding the jail’s use of the solitary confinement cells as a whole. He is also asking the Court to order an injunction for the Koror Jail to immediately stop housing inmates in the dark room until the facility is brought up to “constitutional muster”.
Jackson also argues that it is not feasible to continue to file petitions for every inmate housed there.
The Court ordered Koror Jail to cease use of the dark room for any prisoner until an agreement is reached on this matter. In the meantime, the jail can employ limited use of the anteroom as a temporarily holding area.
Temael was moved out of solitary confinement when this petition was filed.
A status conference hearing is scheduled for January 23, 2015.