Man Serves Five Extra Years in Prison Due to Admin Error

Samoan man Sio Agafili should have been released from prison in December 2015, but was still behind bars in 2020. Luckily a judge spotted the clerical error when the inmate appeared in court on another matter.

The 45-year-old father of three was convicted for burglary and theft in November 2008, and was given a seven year sentence. A month later, he was sentenced to five years in prison on separate burglary and theft charges.

Both sentences should have been served concurrently, which is standard in the Samoan judicial system.

"No one told me when my jail term will end," Agafili told Samoa Observer. "I lost count of the days [in jail]. I don't remember much about when I should be out, I just know I had to serve my time."

Supreme court justice Leiataualesa Daryl Clarke spotted the error ahead of Agafili's appearance in court relating to an alleged grievous bodily harm incident committed at Tanumalala prison during a prison break, in which inmates attacked guards in order to and escape.

Agafili has been released on bail, but is still waiting to be sentenced on the assault charge. It's possible that Agafili will be awarded compensation after being detained illegaly for just under five years.

"His right to liberty—under article 6 of our constitution—has definitely been breached. So it'll definitely be a claim under that," said Muriel Lui, Agafili's legal representation.

Agafili had no idea the sentences were supposed to be served simultaneously, explained Lui; "He didn't realise anything. He didn't realise that it was supposed to be concurrent, and it was only picked up when he came up for sentence for the current offence he's been charged with," reported New Zealand's TVNZ 1 News.

Lui said there may be other prisoners like Agafili in the system, who have already served their sentences due to inaccurate records and ineffective processes.

Samoa's prison system has been highly criticised previously, with reports of inhumane conditions, overcrowding, a poor diet for inmates, extremely bad sanitation and sometimes prisoners have no access to running water.

The former prison service commissioner Taito Edward Winterstein recently stood down after a series of breakouts by 36 inmates. The Samoa Prison Service disbanded entirely in March 2020, and is now under state police control.

Prison cell
File photo of a man in a prison cell. A Samoan man was released from prison in July 2020, five years after his official release date due to an admin error. Giles Clarke/Getty Images