More than fifteen ex-convicts of the Tafa’igata Prison have volunteered to form a new organisation called the Gauigāna’a Society.
Led by Tofilau Fa’amanu Ivara, the move has been triggered by the escalating and never-ending problems within our community involving prisoners.
The new organisation has already been incorporated under the Incorporated Societies Ordinance 1952 and its main purpose is to assist Government in the fight against the current and non-stoppable rising of criminal offending in Samoa.
After meeting with the Prime Minister, Minister of Police and Prisons and the Management of the Samoa Prisons and Correction Services (S.P.C.S), the government has granted its full endorsement of the Gauigana’a Society’s purpose and objectives.
The Gauigana’a Society is now working with the Development Services of the S.P.C.S and will start in February this year working on a solution to tackle the current and most serious problem involving inmates escaping from prisons.
The Gauigana’a Society’s work will include dealing with the complaints from prisoners on issues that affect their basic human rights, as that is part of the root cause of the rising problems.
“The Gauigāna’a Society believes that since Samoa’s independence in 1962, our law enforcement, social and criminal justice system has remained as it is now for years with the same key players such as the laws, the police, the courts and the prisons,” a statement from the group says.
“But records have proven that criminal offending has strikingly increased throughout the years, and most alarmingly at present, as it is rising in a very fast rate.
“The founding members of the Gauigāna’a Society have wholeheartedly saluted the efforts of the present system but they believe that crimes in this country will prevail and will continue to rise in the near and far future.
“As the situation has noticeably come from worse to worst, it has triggered the thought within these ex-convicts that additional new players are needed to complement the current efforts.”
From their experience at the Tafa’igata Prison, the group notes that there is a new, unnoticed, unacknowledged and fast growing force behind the problem that the existing system has not been prepared to confront.
“And that is Recidivism or habitual returning to prison for criminal reoffending. Recidivism has existed in a very small scale for years but has accelerated considerably in a couple of decades ago and it has definitely led to the current high number of re-offenders constituting the majority of the inmates in prison.”
Records can confirm that 60 per cent to 70 per cent of the present inmates at the Tafa’igata Prison are re-offenders. Some are even serving their fifth or sixth prison terms.
“That proves the fact a revolving door of recidivism does exist. As a matter of fact, re-offenders are much worse and more dangerous than the first timers.
“The major cause of recidivism is the lack, if not the absence, of suitable rehabilitation programmes targeted at reforming the character of the prisoners and at the same time preventing re-offending. Inevitably, our prison system at present is 95% based on the concept that the prison is not intended to rehabilitate, but rather solely to punish the criminals and protect the public.
“Thus the main reason why there is very little rehabilitative activity found in our prisons today. In order to achieve a reduction in recidivism, effective rehabilitation and reformation programmes are necessary.
“Yet the rapid and continuing increase in our prison population and the return to society of ex-prisoners who, if anything, are confirmed in their negative life-styles through their prison experiences; the high rate of recidivism, and the huge financial burden because of a large correctional budget placed on Government. All these factors tell us that something must be done to put an end to the existing revolving door of recidivism.
“That is exactly where the Gauigāna’a Society will come in. Its renewal and rehabilitation work will target both the current and outgoing inmates.”
The members have also been enthused by the fact that any life reform and rehabilitation programme for prisoners and ex-convicts would be more effective with a high degree of acceptability, if the programmes are conducted by the reformed ex-convicts themselves and especially by those who have largely experienced the life in Tafa’igata Prison.