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Minister proposes inmates-led building contractor

The Minister of Police and Prisons, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, is considering seeking approval for the establishment of a building contractor group made up exclusively of low-risk prisoners.

Speaking to the Samoa Observer – a week following revelations that construction work at the $800,000 Vaia’ata prison project led by inmates had been halted – the Minister said that the model of prisoner rehabilitation is being rolled in other countries and his Ministry is currently considering it.

“This is something other countries are doing and we anticipate doing the same so prisoners can use their time wisely. But this opportunity is not afforded to all the prisoners, only the low-risk inmates,” said Tialavea. 

“We have to keep in mind that although they are convicted of crimes, but they are skillful people. And we want to put their skills in good use.” 

He said this will need the approval of the Cabinet. 

According to the Minister, a skilled carpenter was building the first block of cells at the Vaia’ata Prison in Savai’a, who will lead the building contractor group after all the necessary approvals for it to become part of the prisoners’ rehabilitation program are given. 

Tialavea refused to divulge the name of the prisoner, who he claimed has built two Princessa supermarket-owned buildings as well as assisted other prisoners learn carpentry as a part of their rehabilitation.

He said the proposal is currently being formulated and the prisoners-turned-builders’ compensation would be in the form of wages. The length of the prisoners’ time behind-bars would also be considered by the Parole Board.

This form of prisoner-rehabilitation is currently being implemented in New Zealand, added Tialavea, with the participating inmates required to undergo internal training before they become eligible to go out as part of their construction work.

“We don't have such programmes available for us, but what we do have are several certified builders that can lead a construction team to be contracted by the public for their work,” he further emphasised. 

“This way we can have hands-on carpentry training workshops to provide prisoners training in the introductory carpentry and construction to develop the skills, knowledge, and attitudes to enter the construction industry. 

“If we get these guys trained up in useful skills there is more chance of them reintegrating into society once they serve their time.”

The prisoner rehabilitation program in New Zealand that the Minister makes reference to is found in the Rimutaka Prison north of Wellington. 

Under an agreement between the Whitireia Community Polytechnic and Rimutaka Prison, staff from the polytechnic teach trades and technical skills in prison workshops, which are supported by corrections custodial officers.

According to a New Zealand Correction statement on this project, eight prisoners built a three-bedroom, 113 square metre house on site 2017 as part of their 34-week New Zealand certificate in construction trade skills programme delivered by the polytechnic.

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