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Prison — a society within a society

Avinesh Gopal
Monday, August 04, 2014

DURING the past hundred years or so penal institutions all over the world were exclusively places of confinement and punishment.

And it is said the old fashioned concept of punishment for wrong-doers within the walls of the prison or correction centres as they are known now die hard.

But in Fiji, there are programs now to help in the rehabilitation of the inmates and equip them with some skills to earn a living when they leave the correction centres.

In a paper prepared in the 1970s, a former prison officer talked about his experiences of crime and punishment, prison procedures, reform and many other areas of life in confinement.

Some changes have been brought about in the system since the paper was prepared by the former senior prison officer for his superiors.

Last week, we brought you part one of the paper where he talked about social and economic developments that contributed to crime.

As part two, today we bring you excerpts from the senior prison officer's report on imprisonment and the Fiji Prisons Service as it was then.

PRISONS must be seen as a society within a society, it was suggested by someone almost four decades ago.

The institutions in which criminals were confined then showed a great variety, both in terms of their announced procedures and their actual performances.

Women, men, adults and juveniles had separate buildings or sections in which they were incarcerated, something that is still happening today.

In a paper prepared in the mid 1970s and presented to his superior officers, Isoa Koroivuki said "institutions of today differ with respect to the extent of the psychiatric services they provide".

Mr Koroivuki, now 78, was the principal prisons officer and he attended several workshops overseas to enhance his performance at work.

After attending a workshop in the UK, he prepared a paper and presented it to his boss to show what he had learnt and what changes could be made in the prison system.

"Prisons are apt to present a common social structure. Perhaps this is due to a diffusion of ideas, customs and laws or perhaps it is a matter of similar social structure arising independently from attempts to form the same combination in both," he wrote.

"On any case, prisons seem to form a social group of system differing in details but alike in their fundamental processes, a genus or family sociological phenomena."

Commenting on the Fiji Prisons Service then, Mr Koroivuki wrote, "Today, the inmate enjoys imprison a more or less homely atmosphere which aids him on release to discourage the first flush of excitement that he realises once the institutional bonds have been relaxed".

He stated in his report particular tasks or pieces of work were defined so that the works involved in achieving the objectives could go.

"These tasks include feeding, clothing and housing inmates, maintaining standards of hygiene and health, ensuring that the rights of prisoners and families are protected and upheld, ensuring that the sentences of the court are carried out, protecting the general public and maintaining order and discipline, providing all necessary services for the physical, mental and moral welfare of prisoners, making provisions for treatment and training.

"These include recruitment and training of staff personnel for various establishments, provision of quarters for staff, payment of salary, development plans etc."

Mr Koroivuki wrote custody or imprisonments were of varying lengths and at prisons such as maximum security prison, medium security prison and the minimum security prison, district prisons, rehabilitative training centre, boys centre and others.

He said Suva Prison was the best identified as the type of establishment receiving various classes of prisoners from local courts or those on transfer from outlying unclassified district prisons.

"There are two main approaches to the treatment of offenders. Each seeks the protection of the community against crimes and recidivism, which is the repetition of criminal acts by any person already convicted of a crime.

" The deterrent approach to penal treatment is based on the belief that exemplary sentencing and punishment will not only discourage the offender from repeating his offence but will simultaneously deter potential offenders from committing offences similar to those for which a deterrent sentence is passed.

"Most penal administrators have at one time or another looked to severe punishments to provide an answer to crime — death, mutiliation, physical pain and spirit breaking imprisonment have all been tried.

"In the light of experience, it cannot be fairly held that such extreme difference and punishment are alone the answers to crime.

"Some offenders will be frightened away from further relapses by fear of the unpleasantness of the punishment but many others will become degraded, more embittered and more dangerous criminals."

Mr Koroivuki wrote that this method does not appear to have effectively deterred other potential offenders. He said the deterrent approach to penal treatment had been modified and refined and it had an important place in any modern penal system.

"Apart from tis general conditioning effect, it will have little influence upon those who do not premeditate their offences, upon those who cannot assess the consequences of their own actions or upon those who are prepared to gamble that they will not be caught.

"The second method is that of reformation, namely the imposition of a sentence which in each particular case is deliberately selected as being the one most likely to restore the offender to the ranks of law-abiding and industrious citizens."

Mr Koroivuki stated that the second method of penal treatment of the criminal, both in regard to the sentencing and to the execution of the sentence, must be deterrent or reformative according to the best interest of the community.

He wrote that some extremists then would wish to see the Fiji Prisons Service adopt a purely repressive attitude while others would make them believe that society was more to blame than the criminal.

"We do not subscribe to either extreme. The evidence shows clearly that punishment alone is not generally effective.

"Only those who have experience in handling offenders would say that most are responsible for their actions," Mr Koroivuki wrote.


The inherent defects of prisons.

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