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The Tanumalala Prison and the opportunities it presents for prisoner rehab

Finally the prisoners at the Tafaigata Prison are being moved, which would bring relief to a lot of Apia residents, especially those living in suburbs that are located in close proximity to the jail.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi announced the opening of the new prison facility at Tanumalala in Parliament Thursday.

“This prison will assist with keeping the inmates incarcerated and will also serve as rehabilitation for the prisoners,” he said.

The Minister of Prisons and Correction Services, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, was relieved that the project is completed but refused to divulge more details of the relocation of the prisoners this weekend. 

“I am thankful to God that it is finished and we are finally opening the doors of the new prison. And it couldn’t have been possible without the keenness of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Finance in funding the entire project,” he told the Samoa Observer in an interview.

The Government’s failure to keep criminals behind bars at Tafaigata has made headlines in recent years. The rape of an Australian woman in 2015 by hardcore criminal Lauititi Tualima — who dashed for freedom while in the company of prison wardens at the hospital and went on to rape the woman the next day — laid bare the shortcomings of Samoa’s prison system.

Lauititi was captured a year after his heinous crime and prosecuted. But the coverage of his crime by local and international media including Australia’s 60 Minutes etched away at Samoa’s reputation as a tourism destination. 

And one legacy of the Tafaigata Prison remains unresolved: serial prison escapee and thief Pati Chong Nee, and murderer Suitupe Fa'amoe Paufai are still on the run from the authorities. 

Nevertheless the new prison facility at Tanumalala heralds a new chapter in Samoa’s Prisons and Corrections Service, and augurs well for the Government in its push to create a peaceful and crime-free society. 

The $25 million tala price tag that came with Tanumalala is money well spent and an investment for Samoa’s peace and security. The Government should be commended for giving this project funding priority, ensuring that the new prison has capacity for up to 300 prisoners at any one time.

But why should we expect the new Tanumalala Prison to be filled to capacity when the country has a lot going for it? The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) believes Samoa is heading in the right direction, as per its Human Development Index. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) in April this year praised the Samoa Government’s first budget surplus in nine years. 

Perhaps the country is experiencing “teething problems” in its development journey as a nation? The International Monetary Fund (IMF) in May expressed concerns at the high levels of unemployment and informal workers, and recommended that Samoa increase its minimum wage as a solution. 

Case studies from around the world show a strong connection between high levels of unemployment and increasing crime, which is why it is good to know that the Government has begun discussions with the country’s private sector, on the minimum wage issue.

Revelations by the Prime Minister in Parliament that Prisons and Corrections Service will rehabilitate prisoners at the new Tanumalala Prison is also good news. Preparing them for a life outside of jail, ready to embrace new opportunities and with the ability to rewrite their lives journey on a new page, should always be the objective of any corrections institution.

But of course we accept that there are those within those walls who will refuse rehabilitation of any form and kind, and are ready to rebel against society at every opportunity. It is those we should keep confined behind those walls and away from society.

The opening of the new Tanumalala Prison on Friday should be an opportunity for Prisons and Corrections Service to review its own rehabilitation programmes and its success over the years. The ultimate objective of any rehabilitation programme is to ensure the cycle of reoffending is greatly reduced.

Therefore, what forms of rehabilitation programmes have been offered at the Tafaigata Prison? Does the Prisons and Corrections Service need to outsource this function to a non-government organisation or the churches? Are literacy, numeracy and computing classes offered to low risk prisoners in order to prepare them for life outside prison? What would be the costs if such rehabilitation programmes were to be introduced at the Tanumalala Prison? 

Have a wonderful Friday Samoa and God bless.

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