Minister writes to suspended Prison boss over investigation

The suspended Commissioner of Prisons and Corrections Services, Taitosaua Edward Winterstein, has been given two weeks to respond to questions pertaining to the management of the prison. 

This was confirmed by the Minister of Prisons, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, who said he has written to Taitosaua asking for his response.

Taitosaua was suspended earlier this month after two inmates escaped from the recently completed $18.2million Tanumalala Prison.

The Minister said the internal investigation into the Prisons Commissioner is one of two separate investigations in relation to the developments at prison. 

The second investigation, conducted by the Office of the Ombudsman, is looking at how the inmates managed to escape.

Speaking to the Samoa Observer, the Minister said he wrote to the Prison’s Commissioner on Tuesday to provide a response to queries on the management. He was given 14 days to reply.   

“When he does respond, that will be presented to Cabinet for their consideration,” Tialavea said.

“I am not in a position to make a decision or recommendation (on the Commissioner), it will have to come from Cabinet.” 

Taitosaua was reluctant to comment when he was approached. 

“No (comment)," he said. "We'll let the process take its course."

About the investigation into the new $18.2 million Tanumalala prison, the Office of the Ombudsman confirmed their involvement as instructed by Cabinet on 8 October 2019. 

“The nature of (the) investigation is to look into how/why the prisoners escaped and any other matters that may arise,” said Ombudsman Maiava Iulai Toma in response to an email. 

“The investigation is currently underway. 

“We cannot tell at this stage how long as there are usual investigation processes to follow including gathering detailed information and documents to ensure we get to the bottom of the issue.” 

Furthermore, the Minister of Prisons said the investigation from the Ombudsman will also make recommendations to Cabinet on prison on ways forward. 

Tialavea was also asked about suggestions whether government will reconsider its decision in separating Prisons authority from Police. 

During the time of the escape from Aniseko Vaelei and Tualima Lauititi, Prisons said they were short staffed with one guard on duty   that night suspected to have fallen asleep. 

The other prisons officer is accused and being charged of opening up the cell door that allegedly led to the convicts fleeing prison. 

Considering the shortage of staff at the prisons, Tialavea is not convinced that a merger with Police to assist with the manpower issue is the solution. 

“It needs to be separated,” he said referring to Prisons and Police. 

“The authorities were merged before and it didn’t work so I believe that the opportunity should be given to Prisons (to address the issues).” 

The Minister also placed emphasise on the work of Prisons authority in terms of rehabilitation for prisoners. 

He said with the turnover of the prisons staff being an issue there is also a need to change the way the staff are being recruited. 

An example he pointed to is requiring each staff that will be recruited to go through a 3 weeks training prior to commencing work. 

A report form Ombudsman’s Office, Detention Center Inspection Report 2019 no1, echoed prison staff being a continuous challenge for S.P.C.S. 

This is despite an increase in its budget from government to assist with the hiring of extra staff and daily operations of prisons. 

The report noted the then Tafaigata prison which is now relocated to Tanumalala had more than 50 officers including management manning a prison population of more than 300 prisoners. 

The separation of Police from Prison was passed by parliament in May 2013 through a bill to establish the Prisons Services Authority. 

Its objective is to address corrections separately from police matters that will impact positively on rehabilitation and the reduction of re-offending which will enhance community safety. 

The changes was also to improve prison administration in Samoa and ensure that it complies with international obligations under applicable Human Rights conventions which Samoa is party to.  

In the past, under the then Ministry of Police and Prisons, there was criticism of policing dominating the functions of the Ministry while prisons work was second priority. 

It was not possible to get a comment from the Minister of Police who is also the Prime Minister, Tuliaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi. 

Queries sent to his Press Secretary were not responded to at press time. 

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