The sharp clean colors of ocean blue with gold lettering outside of the Division of Corrections at the Bureau of Public Safety belies what lies inside the Koror Jail facility. Hot, stuffy, congested spaces, separated by steel rebars and concrete into sections, most with steel rebar doors, and few with curtains, make up the mishmash of Koror jail, the main correctional facility in Palau. Two other smaller facilities are located in Babeldaob, Ngardmau, and Melekeok, attached to the police substations there.
79 inmates, consisting of 76 males and 3 females, currently reside in the Koror jail. Inmates are serving time ranging from 6 months to 25 years, with convictions varying from theft to drug trafficking to murder.
“These are divided into separate sections. We have to keep them apart for their safety because if they are all together and a fight breaks out, it will be bad,” explained Director of Public Safety Ishmael Aguon while touring the Koror jail facility with some members of Palau media yesterday.
One section consisting of 6 cells with rebar doors is identified as holding cells for those who are brought in for 24 hours custody. The area has a security camera above it, monitored from the main desk by officers. The camera security system in the jail records video and audio according to the IT personnel there.
Another section shows a workshop-type area where inmates carve storyboards. The area is closed off with a steel rebar door. “This door keeps the sharp tools secured and when inmates leave, they are checked to make sure that the sharp objects are not taken,” explained Corrections Director Ricky Ngiraked. Money from the sales of storyboards is given to the inmate’s families and 20% is kept by jail for the inmate keep, according to Ngiraked.
Inmates that are incarcerated 6-to-6, meaning that are in jail from 6 pm to 6 am, and are allowed to maintain jobs during the day, have a separate section. In this section, the cells hold 1 to 3 people per cell. They have their own chillers, cooking implements within their rooms. “These people work based on their sentences, to pay restitution and support their families. They can buy and bring their food or their families bring them food and they cook it themselves.”
The jail kitchen, located in the central area of the jail connected to an open area recreation room, is a 6 by 15 feet of space with very basic amenities. A table, a large rice cooker, and butane stoves. Inmates take turns cooking, reported Director Aguon. There’s budget for food but he added that they also receive donations of food from many people and groups. In response to social media allegations that prisoners were taken to pick kangkum from the dumpsite, Aguon said that it was not true. “We actually get a lot of people donating vegetables. A Chinese lady married to a local guy, always brings vegetables here that were not sold at makit. Others have also been donating food such as Ngarabechochod, Bilung, and others.”
Aguon said that they take inmates fishing about once a month. “There’s no real rehabilitation here and this serves as a good activity for them. We usually have someone donate a boat once a month and we provide fuel. 7 officers would accompany about 10 or 12 inmates to fish. Last month they had 3 coolers of fish and when they brought them, the other inmates cleaned the fish and put them in their freezer so they alternate fish with canned foods in their meals.”
“These are people, human beings and we have to keep that in mind. They will return to the community after they serve their sentences and one of the best things we want to see for them is the work program like the 6-to-6 program. It helps them when they have to return to the community,” expressed Director Ngiraked.
In all of the sections, butane stoves and cooking implements can be seen. Even though there is a jail kitchen, some of the inmates can still cook for themselves.
In one section called Blue Corner, the entire area is painted deep blue, a group of about 7 men is kept separated from the rest. They have their own kitchen, storyboard working area, bathroom, and cells. These, according to Director Ngiraked, are kept separated from other inmates for their safety. Due to certain history with others, some have to be kept away from the general population of inmates.
There are a couple of inmates that are kept in single cells separated from all others. These are considered to pose danger to other inmates.
With so few female inmates, the women’s section of the jail has been turned into another section to house another group of male inmates.
The 3 women in jail are kept in units right next to the front area near the officers’ station. One of the 3 is kept in the juvenile section away from the 2 female inmates. There are currently no juveniles incarcerated.
In all, the quality of the facility is poor although secured. “We do the best with what we have,” expressed Aguon. The facility has grown over the years and the construction is haphazard. It is partly concrete, steel rebars, and tin roofs with poor air circulation in the sections. In one cell, a power pole stands in the middle of the room with the roof cut out around it allowing it to stand out and when it rains, water drips into the cell. It is no longer serving as a power pole but as an antenna base for the police radio equipment. The new jail facility being constructed between Airai and Ngchesar is aimed at addressing this issue with cells constructed to meet US standards. According to President Whipps, Taiwan has approved funding to complete the construction and the only challenge it faces is that it would be too big for the current manpower to handle once it opens.