Island News

Another chance to change

Written By : MELA TUILEVUKA. The historic event, which took place on Thursday, July 10th, 2008, eventuated after the Commissioner of Prisons, Brigadier Iowane Naivalurua invited the President of the
12 Jul 2008 12:00

image Written By : MELA TUILEVUKA. The historic event, which took place on Thursday, July 10th, 2008, eventuated after the Commissioner of Prisons, Brigadier Iowane Naivalurua invited the President of the Methodist Church in Fiji, Reverend Laisiasa Ratabacaca inside the four high walls of Naboro Maximum Prison.
“Correct me if I am wrong, but I think this is the first time that we have opened the maximum prison doors to such a delegation,” Brigadier Naivalurua said.
He added the reason why he invited the Methodist Church president is because 80 per cent of the prison population are indigenous Fijians and out of which 41 per cent are Methodists.
Brigadier Naivalurua said that it is a challenge for him as Commissioner and his 544 strong staff in the country to look after the 46 high risk inmates daily and make sure that they understand the seriousness of their crime so that they do not re-offend once released into the society.
He said this was the reason why he needed to invite the church to see first hand what the inside of the high walls of the maximum prison had to offer and hopefully become a stakeholder in ensuring that prisoners are welcomed back into the society upon release.
“It is not my responsibility alone to make sure that these inmates are rehabilitated, I look after them inside but the challenge remains when they go back out into the society,” he said.
“These prisoners did not fall from Mars or Jupiter they came from somewhere – a society, so society needs to accept them upon their release.”
He added that the FPCS is trying to change society’s perspective that these inmates are a threat.
“The stigma associated with prison and the inmates impedes on our efforts in rehabilitation and reintergrating the offender,” he said.
On the fact that some critics are against the move by FPCS to rehabilitate prison inmates, Brigadier Naivalurua said that there is no argument that criminals are criminals and they deserve punishment.
“Being locked up is a punishment in itself,” he added.
“But once inside the prison walls our efforts to rehabilitate inmates, is first and foremost because one day they will serve their prison term and will have to go back into the society.”
Brigadier Naivalurua added that we should understand that society has its own problems and not being able to handle problems such as poverty and many more results in criminal activity.
“Most of the prison inmates, in fact 60 per cent of them consist of young offenders who are under 30 years of age,” he said.
“We can’t put the blame on parents for being negligent or whoever for the crimes of these young offenders, but at the end of the day, there is still a whole list of social factors that have to be considered.”
Brigadier Naivalurua said that critics needed to look at FPCS perspective as a way forward for nation building because it would be of no use employing prison guards and other staff if prison inmates engaged in criminal activities once released into the society.
On the fact that some prison inmates are well educated, Brigadier Naivalurua said, the FPCS is making use of their skills and expertise with the likes of former journalist Josefa Nata, former Permanent Secretary for Agriculture, Peniasi Kunatuba, former naval commander Francis Kean and George Speight.
“Nata and Kunatuba are currently helping us the FPCS out here in my office, while Kean has been involved in conducting workshops and seminars for prison wardens and inmates,” he said.
Brigadier Naivalurua said the services of these inmates are valuable to our nation and it has cost them nothing at all.
“For example, the government had done so much for Kean while he was in the navy and he has been conducting training for prison wardens while in prison at no cost.”
He added that the FPCS has also taken into account the feelings of victims of crimes seeing that the very ones who have hurt them are out in society.
“Another phase that we hope to achieve is to get victims to understand and forgive these inmates,” Brigadier Naivalurua said.
During the visit, the prison inmates presented a whale’s tooth for the ‘matanigasau’ to Reverend Ratabacaca to seek forgiveness for their wrongdoing.
The highlight of the visit was when the inmates sang their own version of the African apartheid song ‘Asibomnanga’ to the delight of the visitors, some of whom shed a few tears.
Reverend Ratabacaca said he was overwhelmed with what the inmates did, especially in admitting their wrongdoing and seeking forgiveness.
“I will make sure to let the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma know, what has transpired today,” he said.
He added that the church is ready to be stakeholders in the rehabilitation of prisoners and that it will be prepared to work hand in hand with FPCS.
“I believe in forgiveness,” Reverend Ratabacaca said.
Like other Correctional institutions, the FPCS represent the operation arm of the law enforcement system, caring for security and criminal offenders and persons in remanded in custody.
Being the main prisons authority in the country, the FPCS is responsible for ensuring the incarceration of offenders and those remanded in custody in a secure and suitable environment, while respecting their dignity, accommodating their needs and assisting them in acquiring appropriate rehabilitative skills.
Some of the rehabilitation skills are Literacy & Numeracy, Spiritual Development, Baking, Farming, Tailoring, Art and Creative Writing.
From these skills, the FPCS has started to commercialise the end product, for example prison inmates have been selling chicken to Goodman Fielder and have so far generated $20,000 since it started its chicken harvest programme.
Brigadier Naivalurua said he hopes that business houses and other institutions will do away with the negative perspective of these prison inmates and lend a hand in building a better nation.

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