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The South Korean cellblock housing U.S. military inmates is a gray, concrete hallway stretching the length of the building, with iron cell-doors spaced along the side.

At the Cheonan Juvenile Correctional Institute, U.S. inmates live in one half of the cellblock, South Korean violent juvenile offenders in the other, according to past interviews with prison officials and American inmates.

Currently there are three U.S. soldiers serving their prison time there for convictions involving a Christmas Day robbery of a taxi driver in 2005, according to Gu Dae-whan, a prison guard chief in charge of caring for the soldiers.

The U.S. servicemembers are treated differently than South Korean inmates because of the status of forces agreement, which dictates how they must be handled. For example, the Americans don’t perform the sort of hard labor assigned to adult inmates convicted of serious offenses.

SOFA regulations also dictate that U.S. inmates get individual cells, whereas Koreans share cells. They get an hour of exercise time each day, and are allowed to cook western-style meals, such as spaghetti and salads, according to a past interview with an inmate.

The American prisoners also have access to college classes and can subscribe to English-language newspapers. Broadcast television is limited to Korean-language shows.

In the past, the Korean prison guards have had some trouble controlling American inmates when they act out, according to Gu.

More recently, U.S. Forces Korea officials have played a larger role in working with inmates’ behavior problems, something that has helped quell incidents, Gu said.

The prisoners can receive visits from military chaplains. Some also receive visits from family members, but that is rare, one prisoner told Stripes. The cost of traveling to South Korea prohibits many visits, he said.

Hwang Hae-rym contributed to this report. E-mail the Korea bureau at:


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