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Guam’s Adult Correctional Facility

A New Vision to Facilitate Parole from Guam’s Adult Correctional Facility

by Dianne M. Strong, Ed.D.

Chamorro people of Guam, small in numbers and vulnerable geographically, adapted to the harsh new conditions imposed by each wave of conquerors, and, in a remarkable feat of cultural endurance, managed to maintain their language, their identity, and their pride under the colonial domination of three of history’s most powerful nation-states: Spain, Japan, and the United States of America (Rogers, Robert F. Destiny’s Landfall: A History of Guam. 1995, 2). [emphasis added]

Besides syphilis and a cash economy, the now U.S. Territory of Guam was also “gifted” with a draconian parole system modeled after the State of California. The 1952 law (amended in 1977) ignored the strong indigenous Chamorro culture that had survived despite hundreds of years of foreign domination.

What constitutes the very essence of this unique Chamorro culture is the value system of “inafa’maolek”-- compassion. As former Governor Carl Gutierrez stated, “It’s about caring, accepting, and helping one another with open hearts and open minds. Inafa’maolek is the inner strength and the treasure of our families and our island community. We live it daily, the warmth, the generosity, the deep and abiding respect for our elders. It lives in the hearts of our people.”

As the United States enters the historic “Obama Age” of seeking reconciliation over retaliation, listening rather than dictating, finding common ground rather than erecting walls, it is time for Guam’s penal code to mandate and facilitate a Parole Board that can demonstrate a commitment to corrections versus punishment. It is time to practice “inafa’maolek.”

Guam’s current parole board consists of five members nominated by the territorial governor and confirmed by the 15-member Guam Legislature following a public hearing. The chairman of the current board is both a former warden of the Guam Adult Correctional Facility (resigned 7 December 1991 after being named a defendant in CV91-00059), and a Korean War veteran, retired Command Sgt. Major, Psychological Operations Army Ranger. He thus sets the punitive tone for this board given the current statutory mandate.

The catalyst that has revealed the need for revision of Guam’s parole laws is the case of Inmate Francisco B. Camacho. An honorably discharged 101st Airborne veteran who served in Vietnam, 1967-‘68, “Chankie” brought the war home to his native Guam. The VA’s “Vet Center” would not open on Guam until 1989, ten years after congressional authorization. When Chankie committed his triple murder in 1975, no one on Guam had heard of PTSD.

Thirty-three years after he committed his crime, for which he has always taken responsibility and expressed lifelong remorse, Chankie has been denied parole six times. Sentenced to three concurrent life terms in 1976, he was torn from his only son, and abandoned by his wife. Nothing is more sacred to a CHamoru than his blood, and to be denied seeing his son was worse for this proud man than the death penalty, which he had sought, but which has never existed on Guam’s books.

At Chankie’s July 2008 parole hearing, his supporters were treated like criminals under questioning by board members. Ms. MiChelle Taitano, who had lost a brother-in-law to PTSD, grilled Chankie’s would-be parole advisor, a retired Superior Court probation officer who had been a helicopter door gunner in Vietnam in 1967-‘68. “Are you sure you don’t have PTSD?” she asked him. “Are you sure you would report him if he violated a condition of parole?” Such treatment of a retired peace officer would be considered extremely shameful -- “mamalao”-- in Chamorro culture.

Retired Police Officer Soledad Chargulaf questioned the inmate about an episode of drunkenness that had occurred in 1986 at a prison industry wood cutting site. Ms. Chargualaf ignored the inmate’s more recent 14-year “clear conduct” record at Oregon State Penitentiary (1994-2008), which served as the basis for the current warden’s (historic) written recommendation for parole. Never in his 33 years in corrections, from a lowly guard to superintendent, had Warden Francisco B. Crisostomo seen such a record for a three-time “lifer” with so little to gain. Clearly Ms. Chargualaf was blind to the concept of rehabilitation.

In fact, the parole board also ignored recommendations from the inmate’s prosecutor, who wrote in 1986, “Once a person has served ten years in prison he has certainly learned the meaning of punishment if that be the purpose of the law. Mr. Camacho is at an age where he could contribute to society and continue his education.” Through the prison’s Work-Study Release Program, Chankie had accrued 82 credits towards a degree in Sociology at the University of Guam, where he became Dr. Dianne Strong’s writing student.

Furthermore, the parole board ignored the prison’s own psychologist – hired as a result of the U.S. civil rights suit Chankie had filed and won in 1993 – who diagnosed his PTSD to be in remission, and also recommended for his immediate parole.

The current corrections code gives the parole board such sweeping powers and secrecy that it believes itself to be wholly “sovereign.” It even must make recommendations to the governor, who has chosen its members, for all pardons and commutation of sentences.

With chronic over-crowding, a strained Department of Corrections budget, spending $35,000/year per inmate, parole is needed for inmates who pose no threat to the residents of Guam.

The need for revision of parole laws is even greater, given the reality that virtually 95 per cent of the prison’s 500 inmates can only be released by the parole board. With indefinite sentences being the norm for inmates who are parole-eligible, virtually all inmates must face the board before being granted a mandatory three-year parole release.

Clearly what is needed is a radically fresh approach to the composition, powers and operation of the parole board. For a start, former corrections employees should be prohibited from serving, for the obvious possibility of conflict of interest. Next, criteria for release on parole must incorporate the culturally based Chamorro tradition of “inafa’maolek,” and an assessment-based rating system. Employees of the Casework & Counseling Division should be working as partners with parole officers, in evaluating and preparing both inmates and their receiving family members prior to the parole hearing.

The Department of Corrections’ culture of secrecy needs to be replaced with sharing of information to optimize the chances for successful release of an inmate. Interviewing of an inmate’s supporters should also be conducted in a manner reflecting “inafa’maolek,” and showing respect.

Lastly, training in assessment and interviewing should be required for the Guam Parole Board. The resources are available from faculty from the University of Guam (which grants baccalaureate and masters degrees in 36 fields): from social sciences, communication, criminal justice, social work, political science, and the like.

A major goal for improvement in the Guam Department of Corrections is developing transparency. The Government of Guam has been slow to develop mandated web sites for its departments, and the parole board makes no use of the worldwide web. Monthly parole hearing agendas, parole releases, all parolee monitoring and assessments, and parole revocations should be posted on the web. This provides staff accountability and eases community safety fears.

The late Angel Leon Guerrero Santos, a former two-term Guam Senator, said "Patience, faith, and prayer are our only weapon in reversing the injustice and restoring hope for our people." With the planned relocation of 8,000 US Marines from Okinawa to Guam, and the revitalization of the Chamorro culture, it is time to do far more than pray. The time has come for revision of Guam’s penal code to facilitate the safe return of inmates to their loved ones who at the same time have suffered as innocent victims. The time has come for parolees to be embraced by the community in the treasured Chamorro cultural tradition of “inafa’maolek.”

ENDS

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