PR: In January and February of this year, the Office of Ombudsman/National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) inspected Samoa’s places of detention. Following the inspections, the Detention Centre Inspections Report 2015 was produced which identifies prisoners as one of the most vulnerable groups in Samoan society from a human rights perspective. This is the first Report the Office has prepared in delivery of its new mandate as the NHRI of Samoa and the first inspections of detention facilities and other confinement facilities in Samoa undertaken pursuant to this new mandate. This is an important aspect of the NHRI’s mandate as it ensures the basic human rights of some of the most disadvantaged people in the Samoan society are protected. To comply with this mandate, the Inspections team visited the Mental Health Treatment Centre, Police Custodies (Police Headquarters and Tuasivi) and all Prisons (Tafaigata, Vaiaata and Oloamanu Juvenile Detention Centre).
“The overall objectives for this report are not to judge and criticise detention centres and their management but to: provide an overview of the conditions of all places of detention and other places of confinement; assess whether basic standards for treatment of prisoners are recognised and align with minimum international and national standards; and finally identify any areas which require improvement. This report presents recommendations which the Office believes are effective to help achieve quality detention centres and ensure the dignity, and integrity for our prisoners are respected, irrespective of their status” Deputy Ombudsman, Maualaivao P Seiuli.
In recognising the need for this Report to be a collaborative work, the Office worked directly with the three main implicated Government bodies, Samoa Prisons and Corrections Service (SPCS), the Ministry of Police(MoP) and the National Health Services (NHS), during the inspections and throughout the compilation of this report. The Office held consultations with these organisations and were given the first draft to the report for comments as to facts, findings or omission prior to finalisation of the report. Comments on the issues raised were provided, discussed and addressed in the Report where appropriate.
Given that these were the first Inspections conducted under the mandate of the Office, every detention facility was given advanced notice of the visit with the exception of Tuasivi police custody. However, all inspections following this Report will be made on an unannounced basis.
Mental Health Treatment Centre
The Mental Health Treatment Centre (the Centre) is established pursuant to the Mental Health Act 2007 and located at Moto’otua Hospital in the fairly new building opened in December 2014. It is the main mental health treatment centre in Samoa which gives preference to the provision of care, support, treatment or protection on (i) voluntary basis and (iii) within the family and community in which the person lives. The Centre is well equipped with two seclusion rooms to detain patients that are violent or at risk, two treatment rooms, four interview rooms and two day bed rooms for out-patients, a spacious cafeteria/kitchen area and storage room. Despite the well equipped centre, there were a few concerns observed during the Office’s inspection for the provision of proper services by the Centre which included:
- Staff and Training:There was a lack of staff and qualified staff. There is no qualified psychiatric doctor. The NHS currently engages a part time Consultant Psychiatrist from Australia to assist the Centre. He works only 9 hours a week over 3 days. With the lack of staff, current staff members do not get to go on lunch break and sometimes work overtime. It was observed that the salary packages for psychiatrists are low and interested personnel have sought better opportunities elsewhere. There was a lack of proper training for staff such as restraining mental health prisoners, human rights obligations, etc. Also, there is a need for proper and continuous training provided for Police and Prisons officers when they hand over a patient to the Centre and vice versa to ensure the safety of not only the Police and Prisons officers but also the patient.
- Record Keeping:It was observed that the centre kept good records. However the following were some issues with regards to records keeping:
- Proper forms were not used to fill in details regarding treatment orders;
- There was no proper documented procedure for handing-over a patient from Police or Prisons custody to the Centre and vice versa to ensure that any injury sustained by the patient from police and/or prison and corrections officers or staff of the Centre is recorded.
All Detention Centers
At the time of the inspection back in January, Tafaigata prison was going through major changes with the recent transition to new management and infrastructure plans for a new prison. The separation of Prisons from MoP appears to be a laudable approach that is paving the way for new policies and standards aimed at promoting the humane treatment of inmates. The Office acknowledges many positive measures currently undertaken by Prison Management to ensure law and order are maintained within prisons. The‘matai system’ within the prisons is effective and provides a uniquely Samoan approach to prisoner management and rehabilitation. This is also seen by the genuine respect between prisoners and officers, evidenced by the low escape rates across facilities despite the low security environment. The clearest example of this is Vaiaata Prison that accommodates inmates in an open, community-like environment. Spiritual education is commonly provided across all prisons.
However, while there were a number of positive aspects, there were also other issues in the detention facilities that were less satisfactory and require major improvement.“We all know that prison can never be a 5 star hotel but it doesn’t mean inmates should be placed in inhumane environments which take away their dignity and integrity as a human being. Correctional facilities must ensure that the system is upholding the rights of prisoners to receive the basic necessities any human is entitled to, this starts from the time they are arrested.”Loukinikini Vili, Investigations and Legal Officer.
Some issues discussed in the report are not new findings; rather they build on the work of other organisations. The NHRI reasserts the need to address these issues and with the Inspections Report carried out within Samoa by Samoa the Office hopes that the Government will take a solemn stand and make serious efforts to address these issues.
Overcrowding and Classification of Prisoners
Overcrowding at Tafaigata is a major issue. The prison and custody cells remained overloaded due to the lack of construction of new facilities despite an increase in detainees. Sometimes the numbers of detainees per cell exceeded the maximum number by more than double. When prisons are congested and overcrowded, it gives way to further problems affecting the hygiene of prisoners as well as the cleanliness of facilities. Further, the separation of juveniles from adults in all facilities was not necessarily common practice. When cells are overcrowded, keeping prisoner populations properly separated and in line with international law becomes more difficult. The classification and separation of young detainees is a major issue that must be addressed, particularly when serious offenders are housed with minor offenders. In particular, the rape of an 11 year-old boy by a 19 year-old at Oloamanu raised serious concerns in this regard.
Improving Access to Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene
There are serious water shortage issues for all detention centres and the quality of drinking water is very poor. Prisoners often went without clean drinking or washing water for extended periods of time. Additionally, many of the water storage tanks were unclean. The poor quality of drinking water is also a concern for food preparation and many inmates reported widespread gastrointestinal issues. Naturally, water shortage issues exacerbate the ability for any facility to remain sanitary and hygienic and keep prisoners in good health. For example, during periods without water, detainees at Oloamanu were required to go to the toilet in the fields, went without showers and only had coconuts to drink for up to two months.
Lack of Basic Health Care
Policies and practices in relation to health care also need improvement, including better serviced and resourced clinics and better access to hospitals, especially for Tafaigata, Oloamanu and Vaiaata prisons. Many of the facilities had no medical clinic and lacked even a first aid kit for minor injuries or illness. Tafaigata was the only facility to have a small medical clinic serviced by a single nurse, who is herself an inmate, which raises serious concerns. Many detainees indicated that they had to supply their own medication or bandages or ask the guards to provide these personally.
Provide Rehabilitation and Reintegration Activities
Rehabilitation and reintegration activities (other than plantation work) are not occurring at any of the prisons. This prevents prisoners from being able to effectively reintegrate and become active members of society who do not pose a risk of reoffending. This is of particular concern at Oloamanu where increased attention to formal and vocational education for young detainees is seriously needed.
Upgrading the Substandard Conditions of Tuasivi Police Custody Cells
The sub-standard condition of the Tuasivi Police Custody Cells is a matter that needs urgent attention. The Inspection Team conducted an unannounced visitand found the living conditions appalling: custodies held in the cells on the day of the visit were required to urinate in empty bottles that were kept outside the door, they went for days without access to toilets or clean drinking water and weeks without access to showers, food had to be provided by their families, ventilation was extremely poor with almost no natural light, the cells were filthy and littered with food and refuse from previous detainees, and they were extremely malodorous. On the day of the visit, a 16 year-old child had been locked in these conditions for several days. Following the inspection visit, the Office called on the Police to immediately institute measures to alleviate the appalling situation at Tuasivi. Some measures have been implemented pending the provision of appropriate facilities to hold arrested people at Tuasivi, but conditions remain unsatisfactory.
Institute induction process
Finally, throughout the inspection, it became clear that an initial induction process is not common practice within the prisons. The prisoners are not medically checked let alone examined of their mental status. Apart from house rules their rights and obligations are not explained. This is one of the findings which the Office has stressed must be addressed.
Securing the rights of persons in detention, a population that is often forgotten, must come into focus. The NHRI’s inspections are to ensure that our correctional system is built on the elements of fa’asamoa and upheld by principles of respect, love and dignity which mutually reinforce human rights. “The NHRI will continue to work closely with SPCS, MoP and NHS to ensure appropriate standards are maintained and improvements in treatment and conditions are made where required. I hope to continue a productive relationship to see positive outcomes for our prisoners and Samoa as a whole. I am also keen for my Office to stay engaged with the process of separation of SPCS and MoP and to be closely engaged with the redesign of the new prison facility to replace Tafaigata to ensure positive outcomes for both organisations and guarantee the new facility meets standards of detention. Through such efforts can we work towards a Samoa where the human rights of ALL are respected and protected” Ombudsman, Maiava Iulai Toma concluded.