The Minister of Prison and Correction Services, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt has defended the weekend parole programme for prisoners claiming it is “common sense law.”
Tialavea’s comments was made during an interview when he emphasized the importance of weekend parole, not only for the Ministry, but also for the inmates.
“Let’s say if an inmate is incarcerated for 10 years without any release, and upon release, he or she will be lost.
“It’s like you left a dark room that you’ve been sitting in for 10 years, they are ready to see the outside world again, because the inmate has no idea what’s going on.”
According to the Minister, prior to releasing the inmates to their families on the weekends, the families are contacted to see if they will allow for the inmate to stay with them.
“We don’t release the inmates just based on their good behavior. There are requirements including the input of the inmate’s family.
“Some families don’t want their family member to come home for reasons the Prison Services are not privy to.
“This was one of the issues the Court has had about weekend parole.
“I understand the law but we are using the common sense law.
He gave an example.
‘There are inmates who are trustworthy and are obedient and their good work has to be rewarded.
“And that is why they conduct themselves as law-abiding citizens, so they can visit their families on the weekend.
“Now say you have been on your best behavior and been a good inmate. The time comes for you to be released for weekend parole, and that privilege has been taken away, how would you feel?
“We are all human beings... so the end result is that this inmate will go back to being that careless person who will not bother to be a law-abiding citizen knowing there is no reward for good behaviour.
“These are the issues that we are dealing with at the prison,” said Tialavea.
The Minister believes the authority of releasing the inmates should be a task allocated to the Commissioner of Police and Commissioner of the Prison and Correction Services.
“Under the current law, the Police Commissioner has the authority to release any inmate, using a warrant.
“This is for inmates to be allowed on restricted release, for family funerals, and other significant family events.
“However the law disallows any inmates, to be eligible for weekend parole if they are convicted of murder, rape, robbery and burglary.
“But I think that part of the law should be revisited and the weekend parole should be left to the discretion of the Police Commissioner and the Prisons Commissioner.”
Tialavea pointed out the process for eligibility for weekend parole is a lengthy one and “we don’t just release anyone”
“As I said, the last say goes back to the Police Commissioner and the Prisons Commissioner and we only recommend those who are at a low risk of reoffending.
Last month, Supreme Court Justice Lei’ataualesa Darryl Clarke expressed his disappointment with the Samoa Prisons and Correction Authorities, over the weekend parole.
From the bench, he openly criticised the system, threatening to hold the Prison’s Commissioner “in contempt of Court if this continues to happen.”
The Judge’s comments were made during the case of a convicted murderer who was released less than three years after his sentencing.
Lilo Lilo, was convicted in October 2013. Sentenced to life imprisonment, he is not eligible for parole until 2023.
But that was not the case.
When Lilo was released on weekend parole, he was re-arrested and charged with possession of marijuana.
Back in Court, Lilo pleaded not guilty to the drug charge. A hearing on the matter was held and he was found guilty. This was when Justice Lei’ataualesa found that he was not supposed to have been released at all.
Inmates who serve life imprisonment are eligible for parole upon serving 10 years. Tialavea at the time took full responsibility for the actions of his staff.
“If the court is looking at holding anyone in contempt it should be me. “The Commissioner of Prison Authority is under my watch, so it’s me that the court will hold in contempt.
“And I want to thank the Supreme Court Justice for his keenness on the matter,” said Tialavea. “This issue was an oversight by our staff and we have made the appropriate corrections.”