Wednesday, February 24, 2010

President's jail tour

Timoci Vula

Fiji Times - Wednesday, February 24, 2010

MORE than 640 of the 995 inmates in prisons around the country are between the ages of 17-30.

This was revealed by the President, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, while officially addressing inmates and guests during his tour of the Naboro Prison Complex yesterday.

Ratu Epeli said the majority of these were secondary school dropouts.

No detailed figure of the exact population make-up of school dropouts in prison was provided.

The President said this fact required "a lot of soul searching by all of us".

"This underlines the importance for an integrated approach involving all the relevant stakeholders, including the vanua and the lotu, and to strengthen family and moral education from childhood," Ratu Epeli said.

He made reference to the department's new approach of facilitating the handing over of prisoners to their families at their homes upon their release.

He said this was a humane gesture that must be commended.

"This refreshing departure (from the old way of doing things) will go a long way in the integration of prisoners into their own families, and the society, and in the maintaining of their true identities," Ratu Epeli said.

Ratu Epeli said he had been closely following developments in correctional institutions in Fiji, particularly since 2006, and there had "already been signs of success".

For one, he said since 2006, a gradual reduction in the number of ex-offenders breaking the law.

"There has been a gradual reduction in the rate of recidivism and the trend is confidently expected to continue," Ratu Epeli said.

"Your efforts to assist the ex-offenders in social integration through the various programs, including the Yellow Ribbon Project, are commendable," he said.

Ratu Epeli said the public engagements such as participation in the Hibiscus Festival by the prisoners under the yellow ribbon increased the level of acceptance, which would greatly assist their transition into society.

He said outreach programs such as visits to schools, villages, business houses, provinces, churches and government agencies had changed society's mindset towards a positive outlook in the way ex-offenders were perceived.

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