Not many people – if any at all – will disagree with Justice Lei’ataualesa Daryl Clarke’s frustrations expressed on the front page of your newspaper today about the Prison system. (See story: Court blasts Prison)
Anyone who cares about the safety of members of the general public will feel a huge sense of relief that someone of Justice Lei’ataualesa’s caliber has seen it fit to raise this matter.
We thank his Honour for being bold and we encourage you to read Justice Leiataualesa’s comments and share your thoughts with us. This is a matter that deserves nationwide attention.
You see, when it comes to the issue of prisoners being given an easy pass from where they are supposed to belong, it is nothing new in Samoa. Countless letters to the editor published on the pages of this newspaper have expressed similar frustrations and fears about what could happen when these prisoners are allowed to roam freely.
Over the years, this column has strongly advocated for changes to the system. This is because we have seen just how devastating the community has suffered as a result. Innocent women have been raped, senior citizens have been robbed, properties have been torched and broken into and the list of heinous criminal offending continues.
Why? The simple truth is that there is a reason criminals are sentenced to be locked up behind bars. They need to be taught a lesson, they need to know that when they break the law, the cost is their freedom to do what they like.
And yet in Samoa, it appears, that is the complete opposite of what’s happening. The case on the front page of your newspaper today about a convicted murderer who has already been allowed out on parole is a classic example. It’s horrendous.
Now sometime last year, the idea was mooted that the Samoa Prison and Correction Services (S.P.C.S) was to ban the weekend parole.
According to the Ministry’s Spokesperson, Sagaga Galu Frost at the time, the ban was part of a number of plans to keep Samoa safe from prisoners. It followed growing concerns by the Ministry – as well as the Police – about the number of crimes being committed by prisoners who are granted weekend parole.
“From our experience, we have seen that those who are convicted for theft, sexual crimes and other offences are likely to reoffend,” Sagaga said at the time.
“So we have made a decision.
At the outset, we said the ban was long overdue. Let’s remind everyone here and now that the idea of jail is not just to teach these folks a lesson. One of the most important elements of sending them to jail is to protect members of the public from them. Yes these people, as much as we want to reintegrate them into society, are not normal. They pose a great risk to you and me. They are criminals.
And that’s why the Police and Prisons exist. They are there to protect us from these criminals.
We’ve said this before and we will say it again today. We accept that there are many challenges for the prison authorities – especially when it comes to the state of the Tafa’igata Prison. One of them is the rapid rise in the number of prisoners.
There are nearly 700 prisoners at Tafa’igata alone for a little over a hundred prison officers. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that this is a disaster waiting to happen. One day, these prisoners will run away and kill someone.
But even before that extreme, how many families must continue to suffer when their homes are broken into and robbed every time these convicts are out?
When will we wake up and say enough is enough?
The comments by Justice Lei’ataualesa should not be viewed in isolation. The government needs to wake up and act on it. Otherwise why do we need a justice system? Why do Judges and the Court waste their time sending prisoners to jail? Why don’t we just allow murderers, rapists, thieves and all criminals to do whatever they like?