We repeat: Prisoners should be kept in jail where they truly belong

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 16 June 2016, 12:00AM

It’s about time. And thank goodness. Finally.

The idea that the Ministry of Prison and Correction Services (M.P.C.S) is considering a ban on the weekend parole could not have come at a better time (see story Govt. considers ban)

According to the Ministry’s Spokesperson, Sagaga Galu Frost, the proposed ban is part of a number of plans in the pipeline to keep Samoa safe from prisoners. It follows growing concerns by the Ministry – as well as the Police – about the number of crimes being committed by prisoners who are granted weekend parole. 

Already, there are certain criminals who have become ineligible.

 “From our experience, we have seen that those who are convicted for theft, sexual crimes and other offences are likely to reoffend,” said Sagaga. 

“So we have made a decision and since then, I have not heard any more complaints from the outside about problems caused by prisoners who are granted parole.”

Of course they shouldn’t. That’s because prisoners belong in jail and that’s where they should stay. This ban is long overdue.

Not so long ago on the front page of your Sunday Samoan, a story titled “Citizen living in fear” was prominently featured. The story highlighted concerns about safety and security in Samoa expressed by 84-year- old businessman, Ken Newton. He had been attacked twice in as many months in his own home by an escaped prisoner.

Now tired of it and concerned that it could happen to others, Mr. Newton decided to speak out.

“It saddens me greatly that after living peacefully in Samoa for 37 years, I am now forced every night to take extreme security measures to try and ensure the safety of myself and my wife,” Mr. Newton said at the time. 

“They (the attacks) have changed our sense of peaceful living. We have to be alert all the time and it’s really affecting our lives. My wife is pretty nervous and we can’t be relaxed with the fact that he (the prisoner) is in prison because he might break out again.”

Mr. Newton added that he feels threatened all the time.

“The windows are secured, the doors and everything is secured,” he said. “We even installed an alarm but he still managed to break in...he’s a professional.”

Mr. Newton is not the only one who has suffered though. Many innocent members of the public have also suffered which is truly worrying.

What’s alarming is that it feels as if it is optional for prisoners to stay in jail. Indeed, judging from the countless times prisoners have broken out at will over the years, it seems convicts in this country can do whatever they want.

The idea of jail, we believe, 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. And yet that doesn’t seem to be the case on these shores, looking at the growing number of times prisoners runaway from their cells.

Mr. Newton – and all other victims – do not deserve the treatment they have received. They should have been protected by the authorities making sure that criminals stay behind bars, where they belong.

We accept that there 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. That’s a ratio of nearly six prisoners per one officer - in the unlikely scenario that they are all working.

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?

As long as prisoners continue to walk out at will and be given parole, no one is safe. Not even in our homes. This is why the decision by the M.P.C.S to consider a total ban on these weekend paroles is a welcome development. If prisoners want to see their families, change their ways, stop breaking the law and make themselves useful. What do you think?

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 16 June 2016, 12:00AM

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