The Assistant Commissioner of Samoa Prisons and Correction Services, Ulugia Sauafea Aumua, has defended the decision to keep a mother and her two month-old-baby at Tafa’igata Prison.
Speaking to the Samoa Observer yesterday, Ulugia admitted that although the situation is not ideal, he said it is best for the mother and her baby to be together so that the mother and baby bond is not broken.
Ulugia confirmed that Tafi’au Kini, of Letogo is held at Tafaigata on a Warrant of Committal. It was issued on 17 March 2017 and was signed by a Registrar of the Court.
“For every person who is brought here in under a warrant of committal, we consider them as civil prisoners,” said Ulugia.
“So we carry out the civil process on them. In Tafi’au’s case, we received her at around 3:30pm on the 17th of March. We followed the same legal process and collected all the documents.
“We also had to interview her and ask her general questions about herself. It was during that interview where we found out that Tafiau has a baby and that she is still breastfeeding her baby.”
Not long after, Ulugia said they received a phone call from the Police asking if “we were aware that Tafiau has a baby and we said yes.
“I was made aware of the issue and so we discussed the issue and we agreed to bring the baby here so her mother can look after her son.”
The Police officers immediately set off to pick up the baby.
“But not long after that, we received a call from the people at our front gate saying that the husband was at the front gate with the baby.”
Ulugia added that having babies and their mothers in prison is nothing new.
He said the issue is “sad” and “unfortunate” but it’s unavoidable at times.
“Breaking up the (relationship) between a baby and a mother is not ideal,” he said.
“We actually have no choice, although the baby is always innocent in these situations. But we also have to consider his or her well being especially if they are young. We can’t just break their relationship with their mother.
“In some cases, when we have a pregnant woman here, we give them six to eight weeks for them to stay home and look after their baby.
“That is also an opportune time for them to decide whether they want to bring the baby in with them or for the family to look after the baby.
“And if they decide that the mother will have to look after the baby, then all we have to do is to facilitate.”
The choice is not really up to them, said Ulugia; it is the family’s decision.
“Our policy is that we keep them (mothers and babies) safe here in a different cell from the others.
“We do accept mothers to bring in their babies here if they are sentenced because it is not our choice.”
Ulugia emphasised the law does not forbid having babies in prison.
“Babies shouldn’t be in prison full stop! But under Convention for the Right of the Child (C.R.C), we need to protect the right of the child. And we can’t keep them apart from their mothers.
“So I think it is best for them to be with their mothers especially if they are young and still being breastfeed by their mothers.
“It’s not really up to us. The decision is up to the family and the mother.”
At the moment, Ulugia said there are two mothers with babies at Tafa’igata.
“Our policy is that they are kept in the same rooms, just the two of them in one cell.
“So for Tafi’au’s case, she is still here in prison. She is still going to be here until we get another note from the Registrar for her to be released. But she still needs to pay the money even after she serves her time here. She is with another mother and her baby too.”