It’s a sorry state

Celebrating 54 years of our independence as a nation is a time for everyone in our small island nation.

And this year, in what was perhaps a bold move by the government, approval was given to include a group of inmates from Tafaigata Prison to perform at this annual, prestigious event.

Prestigious, not just because it’s a time that we pay tribute to our forefathers who argued, suffered, fought, struggled, were banished and in some cases killed on the way to independence; but also because it is a day of pride when schools and other groups march and perform in front of local and overseas dignitaries and members of the public.

There was certainly a risk factor there which was obviously well managed on the day.

The decision to perform and then offer a traditional apology to the country was apparently accepted and reciprocated in the spirit of which it was presented.

But many members of the public will be a little cautious about getting too carried away by this public show of attrition.

And they have got every reason for this.  

From what the spokesperson of the Samoa Prison Correctional Services, Sagaga Galu Frost said, it is not clear whose idea it was to make this apology and what it was actually about, and for.

Certainly there are both inmates and prison officers whose behaviour over the years warrant apologies at the very least; but government too should say sorry to the public.

Sorry for years of underfunding of what is derisively referred to by locals as “Samoa’s other tertiary institution”. 

Sorry for the chronic overcrowding where humans are herded into spaces unfit for animals.

Sorry that the prison has failed to adequately provide a sufficient quantity of basic necessities such as water, food and basic sanitation.

Sorry for a total absence of any kind of rehabilitation programmes in order to give offenders a genuine chance to make good on past behaviour and mistakes and come out with some kind of hope beyond that of going back inside again.

Sorry for the poorly-trained prison wardens whose methods of control included showing favouritism, administering violence and in at least one case, resulting in death. 

Sorry too for the delay in establishing a new prison which was announced some time ago and is still to be opened despite the fact numerous other government buildings have shot up.

Members of Parliament have known for years about the state of our prisons. Not that most M.P.s have actually visited Tafaigata,  but over the years, reports by the US Department of Human Rights  have regularly pointed to the disgusting conditions which are easily accessed and read by our government.

Perhaps we haven’t taken them seriously having heard reports about the U.S.A.’s own less than admirable prison conditions and the infamous Guantanamo Bay.

But while proudly sharing with the world our prison system’s supposedly enlightened policy which lets some prisoners have weekend leave, we have not been quite so vocal about the thefts and violence which have often coincided with this time out.

As an area to garner brownie points with constituents, M.P.s know that being associated with anything to do with Tafaigata, is not a really a sexy option.

However we hope that the re-appointed member for Faleata , the usually very vocal Lealailepule Rimoni Aiafi, might take it upon himself to visit the prison and see what can be done. And then do it.

After all, there have been calls for help and red flags over a number of years.     

In 2009 conditions in Tafaigata were so bad 41 prisoners hijacked a bus hoping to drive to parliament to beg the Prime Minister for help, but things did not improve. 

In 2012 visiting New Zealander, Hans Dalton was found dead in his cell on Boxing Day. He was upside down in a barrel of water after being badly beaten.

A 2013 Commission of Enquiry – the comprehensive findings of which were widely publicised by the Ombudsman, painted a damning picture but also offered solutions and recommendations. 

Sadly to date, the findings do not seem to have stemmed the number of escapes in the subsequent years nor have they made very much difference to life in Tafaigata and nor has the public been reassured of any positive progress.

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