Prison overcrowding, poor sanitation worries Ombudsman

Overcrowding remains a problem at the Vaiaata Prison in Savai'i as an Ombudsman's report raises concerns over what it says is a lack of water and proper sanitation at the facility. 

The Office of the Ombudsman (O.M.B.) and the National Human Rights Institution detail the issues in the Detention Centre Inspection Report 2017.

More than 50 prisoners were found to have limited access to clean and sufficient water. 

The Vaiaata Prison was visited by the investigation team from the O.M.B. including four police custodies in Tuasivi, Vaito’omuli, Asau and Fagamalo. 

“The dormitory (two medium sized rooms) was occupied by most of the prisoners," the report finds. 

“The increase in the number of prisoners is an issue because the capacity of the dormitory can only detain not more than five prisoners.

"Consequently, the dormitory was overcrowded, dirty and the air fairly stuffy.”

Furthermore, the report pointed out the toilet was not working, and appeared to have been so for several months, due to a problem with the septic tank. 

While waiting for a septic tank to get fixed, the prisoners were using two non-flushable toilets (faleuila eli) built just outside of the facility. 

The Samoa Prisons and Correction Services (S.P.C.S.) stated there is plans to build a new prison facility for Vaiaata that can house up to 100 prisoners. 

But in the meantime, an open house will be built as a sleeping accommodation for some of the prisoners, and used for other activities such as a chapel for church services.

Water at Vaiaata is also another ongoing issue. At the prison, water is turned on by the Samoa Water Authority at certain times such as between 6 am-6 pm. According to the report other times there is no water the whole day and access to water is not guaranteed all the time.

But the S.P.C.S. says it has made arrangements to ensure water is stored in the tank and prisoners showered before the water is turned off. 

“Sometimes, prisoners use the village pool to shower,” noted the report. 

“The prisoners that were interviewed stated that the water is usually dirty and not good for drinking, washing or cooking.”

Prisoners at Vaiaata have development opportunities like farming produce, a pigsty, chicken pen, vegetable garden, cocoa and banana, yam, and taro plantations. 

These produce in addition to the food provided by S.P.C.S. (such as rice, chicken, tin fish) are used for prisoners’ food. 

The produce is also sold or gifted to pastors when they pay visits. 

Prisoners interviewed for the report said that they were happy with the food, the majority of which they produce themselves.

At the time of the investigation, there were 58 prisoners recorded in S.P.C.S. records but only 51 were detained at the Vaiaata prison while the other six were held at Police outposts. 

One other prisoner is held at the Ministry of Justice Courts and Administration (M.J.C.A.)

The numbers have since increased since the last inspections of 33 prisoners. 

Further, there were some new issues identified by the investigation team that required the attention and consideration of the Ministry of Police (M.o.P) and S.P.C.S. to address.

These are incomplete record keeping in police outposts and detention of Vaiaata prisoners with police custody. 

The Ombudsman’s Office has recommended for S.P.C.S. to build an open fale as a temporary measure to reduce overcrowding and to separate juveniles from adult prisoners. 

It also urged S.P.C.S. to reconsider its policies of detaining prisoners at police outposts and for Police to maintain complete record keeping. 

The Ombudsman’s Office raised that some of the concerning issues are long outstanding and requires the attention of the government, S.P.C.S. and relevant authorities such as Samoa Water Authority. 

It was recommended that S.P.C.S. builds a temporary open house to detain some of the prisoners and to fix the septic tank to ensure that the primitive toilets are in decent manner. 

As for unlimited water it was recommended that prisoners have access to clean water whenever they need it. 

The Ombudsman’s Office had also commended the quick response to an urgent recommendation in the last inspections to renovate or build new custody facilities for Tuasivi as the conditions of the facility were appalling and unfit for untried prisoners to be detained. 

Vaiaata Prison was also acknowledged for its effort to start addressing some of the concerns that were raised in the previous inspection like the need for better food and health care services as well as rehabilitation programs. 

The Government announced the construction of a new prison costing $600,000 at Vaiaata. A groundbreaking was held in April. 

The Minister of Revenue who is also responsible for Prisons, Tialavea Tinosio Hunt, at the time spoke about the need to upgrade the prison facilities that house the prisoners. 

“The prison house at Vaiaata looks like a family house with barred windows and a door," said Tialavea.  

"It’s not your typical prison house and quite frankly I don’t think any other prison in the world looks like the one we have in Savai'i. 

"The prison house that exists right now is overcrowded with the 40 prisoners serving time in Vaiaata, hence why we are planning to build a prison building block similar to the ones being built at Tanumalala." 

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