The Minister of Prisons, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, has defended the decision to release a convicted murderer to attend his matai title bestowal ceremony during the Festive Season.
The Samoa Prisons and Corrections Services (S.P.C.S.) approved the release of well-known criminal, Tagaloasa Filipaina, the Samoa Observer was told.
The release came at a time when members of the public were outraged over a prison break involving four other prisoners, which resulted in a woman and her children attacked at Ululoloa.
One of the prisoners remains at large.
When concerns from members of the public about the Tagaloasa decision were put to the Minister, he downplayed them, saying the prisoner had shown enough proof that he has changed his ways.
“Filipaina is a low risk prisoner,” he said. “We believe he has very minimal chances of re-offending.”
The Samoa Observer put it to Tialavea that the Prison’s new Act, signed into law in 2016, indicates that those who are convicted of murder, manslaughter, sexual connection, rape, incest, burglary and robbery are not eligible for special release, holiday release and weekend release.
But Tialavea was adamant the prisoner in question posed no risk to the community.
“The release depends on the condition of the prisoner, good behavior and low risk (of reoffending),” he said.
“You should go and see Ulugia, he will explain to you why he was released.”
The Ulugia he is referring to is Ulugia Niuia Aumua, the Assistant Commissioner of S.P.C.S.
Reminded that he was the Minister who should be questioned and that the Act clearly prohibits such a release, the Minister said there is a clause under the Prisoner’s Act, which gives the S.P.C.S. the authority to release a prisoner.
“Go and read the Act,” he said, adding that he was not aware of the release of Tagaloasa.
“We only release the prisoners with special conditions, meaning they are at low risk of reoffending.
“For Filipaina, he has been before the Parole Board five times already and he will appear again next month. He is a low risk prisoner.”
The Minister did not say what clause under the Prisons Act he was referring to.
The release of prisoners into the community has been a controversial and sensitive issue in Samoa for years.
Last year, Supreme Court Justice Lei’ataualesa Darryl Clarke openly criticized S.P.C.S. over the “unlawful release” of inmates.
At the time, he threatened to hold the Prison’s Commissioner “in contempt of Court if this continues to happen”.
Justice Lei’ataualesa’s comments were made during the case of a convicted murderer who was released less than three years after his sentence.
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.
Justice Lei’ataualesa pointed out that per regulation; murderer convictions are not eligible for weekend parole.
“This defendant was released in contrary to the regulations of 2016 which notes that he’s not supposed to be eligible for weekend parole.
“The release of this prisoner is unlawful therefore non-compliance with what is allowed by the regulation.”