The confirmation by the Minister of Prisons, Ti’alavea Tionisio Hunt that the new prison at Tanumalala is going ahead is welcome news.
Following the realization that budget had not allocated nearly enough for a new prison, there was a somewhat desperate search for funding.
Cynics amongst us looked at the many towering government buildings in Apia and pondered the priorities and intellect of the leaders of a small country such as ours.
Ti’alavea has said that a ground breaking ceremony will take place in May and predicts that by the beginning of 2018, the prison should be operational.
With a plan drawn up which includes separate holding cells, facilities for reform and rehabilitation and workshops for prisoners to learn trades and skills, the facilities will house between 600-700 inmates.
Funding of a 10 million tala loan from U.T.O.S. has been approved, there is access to water and electricity and an advertisement for a project manager has already been sent out.
The Minister has also promised a multi-purpose hall.
So finally, after countless adverse local and overseas reports have been written and ignored, the government is at last making an attempt to ensure the human rights of society’s misfits and the safety of the country’s citizens and visitors.
For years we have heard about the horrors of Tafaigata Prison after prisoners have escaped with ridiculous ease; overcrowding and squalor have been the norm and then there were the allegations and reports of brutal treatment, mismanagement and collusion between prison wardens and prisoners.
Sadly it has only been since stories of unexplained injuries and death, multiple prison escapes by rapists and thieves have spread from our shores, that there was the realization at home that “something needed to be done”.
While the ridiculous absence of a fence was an obvious answer to at least one of the many problems, there were many other issues that needed addressing.
They included chronic overcrowding, slack management, too few untrained staff and a total lack of any programmes that addressed reform and rehabilitation opportunities for those seeking a second chance.
Many of the prisoners are illiterate in English and even Samoan, almost a guarantee that they will be making a return trip after they have been released.
It is interesting to note in the Minister’s report about the new prison there is no mention yet of recruitment of wardens and training programmes.
With all the new buildings in the world, we believe that training of staff will be a crucial factor. It will not be good enough to simply place policemen inside the new facility if true change is what we are aiming for and then expect miracles.
In this case, the popular thinking that “it will all come together in the end”, will not suffice.
Let us hope that amongst the $10 million tala for the new buildings, some funding has been set aside for the training of those people whose job it will be to work as wardens and help rehabilitate those who will be incarcerated in Tanumalala.