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Activate Prisoner Rehabilitation Programme

Samoa’s prison and correction services have been making headlines in recent months over a construction project at the Vaia’ata Prison in Savai'i and how the project’s proponents bypassed the Government’s own procurement and regulatory systems and processes.

But it appears that is not the only setback facing the Ministry of Police and Correction Services, as last weekend a former high ranking official within the Ministry revealed that prisoner rehabilitation was no longer provided. 

In an article titled “Former prison official laments wrong focus” published in the November 8, 2020 edition of the Samoa Observer, the former Assistant Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry’s Programme Development Service Unit, Maiava Viiga Fuimaono said the Ministry’s focus on the punishment of prisoners rather than their rehabilitation is detrimental to their long-term wellbeing.

“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. 

“[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.”

The Minister of Police and Correction Services, Tialavea Tionision Hunt, admitted in September that Maiava’s former position within the Ministry is currently vacant after he exited in March following a fallout with the Police Commissioner and there is no one overseeing the prison’s rehabilitation programme. 

Maiava has warned that the current absence of a prison rehabilitation programme within our jails is dangerous.

The fact that the position is yet to be filled at the Ministry, close to eight months after Maiava made his exit, is a cause for concern.

Why is it taking the Ministry close to a year to get the position filled? 

And can the Ministry temporarily outsource the prisoner rehabilitation programme to a non-government organisation or even a church with expertise in offering such a specialist service to inmates?

Studies from around the world of retributive justice [where the penalty for the crime committed is punishment] versus prisoner rehabilitation show support for both. 

Interestingly, there is growing evidence in Scandinavian countries, where prisoners who are offered more outdoor activities and educational training to boost their employability upon their release from jail, that it reduces their risks of reoffending. 

Spending more time behind bars can also impact negatively on inmates – including getting them to return to crime and participating in more serious offenses – due to them expanding their networks while in jail, and learning the ropes from hardcore offenders who could have been convicted for longer periods of time. 

And let us not forget the mental health challenges that prisoners continue to face in prisons in Samoa, where their isolation and segregation can impact their view of the world.

The former Assistant Chief Executive Officer made reference to that during an interview with this newspaper.

“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,” he said.

Therefore, the concerns expressed by the former top bureaucrat should be taken seriously and acted upon by the Ministry.

The need for action is also critical after the Police Commissioner, Fuiavaili'ili Egon Keil, disclosed in August that crime rates have increased by 25 per cent in all categories during the lockdown despite the current state of emergency [S.O.E.] declared by the Government. 

Currently, the Tanumalala Prison on Upolu can take up to 300 inmates with the Vaia’ata Prison another 100 for a total of 400. 

But how many of these 300-plus inmates are in jail for minor offenses and could potentially be rehabilitated to become better citizens to return to the community and contribute to the country’s development?

We will never know the answer to this question nor the potential of an inmate at Tanumalala or Vaia’ata to be rehabilitated unless there is an active programme within the Ministry of Police and Correction Services.

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