It’s a prison, not a hotel, says Samoa MP

A Member of Parliament has cautioned against making prison so comfortable that prisoners would not want to leave.Associate Minister and MP for Sagaga le Usoga, Muagututagata Peter Ah Him said the distinction must be made otherwise the prison population would continue to grow.“We are all wrapped up in sympathy for the situation at the prison,” he told Parliament. “But it seems we have forgotten that these people are criminals, they broke the law.“Listening to the discussions today and all the ideas brought forward, it seems we are trying to build a hotel for these people.”Muagututagata was speaking during the discussion of the Prisons and Corrections Bill 2012, which proposes the establishment of the Samoa Prisons and Corrections Service (SPCS). The Service will run Tafa’igata Prison, which means the jail will no longer be under the Ministry of Police.The bill places emphasis on the rehabilitation of prisoners, as opposed to their containment. It talks about administering prisons in accordance with Samoan customs, tradition and community value.The bill also talks about giving prisoners opportunities to work and the promotion of prison enterprises.Muagututagata said prison is a place for punishment. He was concerned that rehabilitation programmes would encourage prisoners to purposely break the law so they could be returned to jail for what he called “an easy life.”“I agree with solitary confinement,” he said.“These people are put there for a reason, to learn from their mistakes. We cannot treat them as guests otherwise who would want to leave prison?”LevaopoloTalatonuVa’ai, MP for Gagaifomauga No. 2, also cautioned against sending the wrong message to offenders.“All these ideas are great,” he said. “However, I’m concerned about the part that says the operation of the prison will be in accordance with our traditions and customs. This would be in direct conflict of Samoa as a democracy.“To me, it would seem as though we are encouraging our people to break the law by allowing them to learn trades and be able to earn money whilst serving time.“It would give people the mentality that it’s ok to break the law and be imprisoned because they can still make money and life is good.”MP for Falealupo, A’eauPeniaminaLeavai suggested that instead of a Commission to operate the prison, why not give the private sector the chance to run the facility?But the suggestion was immediately kicked to touch by Prime Minister TuilaepaSa’ileleMalielegaoi.He said the Government’s priority is the safety of its people.“A’eau is asking a lot,” he said. “We are talking about people who are convicted felons, murderers, and rapists and more. They are a danger to society, which is why they are in prison.“We also have to consider the safety of our people and a prison being run privately will endanger our people and that is not what we want.”Most opinions in Parliament thoughfavoured the need to emphasise rehabilitation.And Minister of Police and Prisons,Sala Fata Pinatisaid that SPCS would focus on the rehabilitation of prisoners.“This law shall encourage a shift of focus from the containment of prisoners to a greater focus on the rehabilitation of prisoners so that they can return to the community as better people,” he said.“This is a law that will facilitate major reforms to the prison system. The responsibility for managing prisons and prisoners shall be vested in the new Samoa Prisons and Corrections Service.“Appropriate provisions are made to enable the smooth transfer of these functions from the Police Service.”MP for Vaimauga West, Lefau Harry Schuster applauded the vision of the Minister to address the many problems within the prison facilities.“This is one law that is very important and it is very fitting that the duties of the police be separated from that of the prisons,” he said.MP for A’anaAlofiNo. 3, Toeolesulusulu Cedric Schusteragrees.“I am very much for the bill and believe this will bring about a lot of changes in the way our prison is operated,” he said.“There is a great need for rehabilitation programmesin the prison and I believe this will help inmates learn skills and even pick up a trade whilst imprisoned.”The MP suggested that the new body should look into areas where inmates can be rehabilitated and taught so that upon release, they are able to support themselves.But MP for Faleata West,LealailepuleRimoniAiafiwas more concerned about the current prison conditions.

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