Former prison official laments wrong focus
A former top official in the Ministry of Police and Correction Services, Maiava Viiga Fuimaono, says the lack of focus on rehabilitation in prisons is “devastating” for inmates’ welfare.
The former Assistant Chief Executive Officer of the Programme Development Service Unit, Maiava told the Samoa Observer that the focus on punishment, instead rehabilitation, is detrimental.
“Putting [prisoners] in hard labour is something [prisoners] enjoy, but the hardest thing in prison is not hard labour. It is sitting inside the cell doing nothing. That is the most devastating thing,” said Maiava.
Maiava resigned following a disagreement with the Police and Prisons Commissioner, Fuiavaili’ili Egon Keil, in March, shortly after the latter and the Police took over responsibility for the management of prisons.
Since then, Maiava alleges no one has been appointed to oversee rehabilitation programmes in the prison system.
In September, the Minister of Police and Correction Services, Tialavea Tionision Hunt, said there is no one to conduct the rehabilitation programmes for the prison.
“The Ministry is currently advertising [a position for] the Programme Development Service Unit position that was once held by Maiava Vi’iga Fuimaono who resigned in March following a fallout with the Commissioner; at the time the Police took over authority over the prison,” the Minister said.
The Minister acknowledged the importance of having rehabilitation programmes but conceded the position had been vacant.
“We do however have a specific block for the rehab programmes. It is important to have these programmes in place that helps motivate change in cognitive-behavioural interventions and general skills to help a prisoner return to the community,” he said.
Maiava says being in charge of rehabilitation programmes for prisoners was the most rewarding part of his career.
“I think out of my whole career this is the best challenge I’ve ever had; when people ask me in an interview, why do you [want to work at the] prison,” he said.
“I want to make a difference in these boys’ lives. The only thing that they see is that they are prisoners, they are saying that a prisoner is a prisoner, but when you sit down and talk to these people individually, some of them, I bet you’ll find out there is a whole different story behind who they are.
“Maybe in a split second they make a wrong choice, and then the small thing they’ve done wrong defines them and that’s something we need to change.”
Maiava recalled conducting one-on-one sessions with the prisoners.
“[The prisoners] need to be [occupied they] need to get out and do something, [it] doesn’t matter what they do. People need to be reminded they need to be rehabilitated mentally emotionally and everything else, that’s why we provided all the resources for them in these programmes,” he said.
“I think it is [dangerous], and because like I said you play with people’s minds and if people don’t do anything to occupy them then the only thing they think about are bad things.”
Maiava gave an example of the difficulties of relating to one of his most troublesome inmates.
“I [asked]: ‘Why are you doing this? when I’m doing nothing all I’m doing are bad things’.”
He said the prisoners need to find that sense of belonging and rehabilitation programmes will assist them.
“And so to me, if they don’t go back and develop the [rehabilitation] again, who knows, something else might be even worse,” he said.
“You know they have a computer lab, a music studio, all the music instruments, we have all the equipment; we have the ovens, the sewing machines, [and yet no programmes].
“And that was my concern as the programme was starting to take place, and all of a sudden [gone] and there’s nothing I can do about it.
“But I hope they will strengthen the rehab again and bring that back into their pipeline. We have a lot of things, we even have singing competitions in their cell, you know they enjoy doing that, their dramas, it’s part of the rehab.”