By JIMMY KALEBE
THE shooting dead of 17 escaped prisoners who broke out of Buimo prison outside Lae last Friday has firmly shone the light on problems at the country’s prisons. Figures given out more than a week earlier, shows that Buimo had over 800 inmates. This week, that official figure had risen to 900, the highest out of all the prisons in the country and almost twice as many inmates than the prison was built for.
For the 97 correctional services officers on the ground, looking after that many people is a daunting task because not only have they to be controlled and cared for during their time in jail, but they also have to be provided help so that they can return to their communities as productive citizens.
Last year, the inmates themselves expressed concerns at the ever-growing population of Papua New Guinea’s prisons and the health problems that overcrowding were causing – physically, mentally and in nterms of hygiene.
The number of correctional officers, however, has not increased at the same pace as the inmate population.
Space also is becoming something of a scarcity within the confines of the prison.
Serving time in jail is often seen as punishment, but that thinking is changing with prisons now increasingly focusing on rehabilitation as a means of both preventing recidivism and promoting assimilation.
It has been observed that when inmates aren’t engaged in positive activities during the day, they turn to troublesome activities at night.
While the Buimo jail administrators and officers agree that prison is where a person is physically and mentally isolated and given minimal rights and privileges, it has been keen to support rehabilitation programmes. To that end, the commander of Buimo prison, Chief Superintendent Felix Nomane, supports programmes that aim to lift the spiritual, mental and physical growth of the inmates.
Under the rehab programme, inmates undertake Bible studies, adult literacy studies and are taught life skills such as carpentry, welding, motor mechanic, livestock husbandry and agriculture.
Sewing and baking are taught as well. Many of those who are serving long sentences see this as an opportunity to learn and know more so they would become useful in their communities once they leave prison.
Low-risk prisoners are now being engaged outside the prison with the first out-of-prison work conducted at Main Market police station in Lae two Saturdays ago, with fly wire, detergent, soap and scrubbing utensils needed for their work paid for by the inmates’ themselves. There is now an appeal to members of the public to donate funds towards this cause.
Correctional Services Inspector Paul Saok said that the community services programme will definitely continue and they are looking at working closely with major companies in Lae where prisoners in the low-risk category can be utilized for a small fee paid to the prison’s rehabilitation bank account.
A major transport company running the Lae/Highlands highway, Mapai Transport, is already providing sewing materials for women inmates. The Human Development Institute is providing personal viability training twice a year, while other companies, churches and individuals are already supporting the programme or have indicated their interest to help.
Soak said the courses and training greatly impact on the lives of the inmates and shows the care and concern companies and people have for them.
The Buimo administration is grateful to the individuals and businesses who have given their time and resources to help and invites others to join the collaborative effort to rehabilitate prisoners and develop better citizens.
By JIMMY KALEBE