31 Mar Babies in prison – “The baby is an innocent person. The family decides. Some choose to bring baby here.”
Concerns have been raised about babies in Tafaigata Prison and how the Ministry of Prison and Correction Services deals with mothers and infants.
On the 17th of March, a Letogo mother of nine children, Tafiau, was taken to Tafaigata Prison to serve 4 weeks as a civil prisoner under a Warrant of Committal for an unpaid debt. Tafiau is breastfeeding her two-month old baby and she asked Tafaigata staff for her child to stay with her.
In an exclusive interview with Samoa Planet, the Assistant Commissioner for Prisons and Correction Services, Ulugia Sauafea N. Aumua explained the situation and also outlined their policies regarding pregnant women who are admitted to Tafaigata Prison.
Ulugia said that when Tafiau was first admitted to Tafaigata, staff there were not informed that she was a breastfeeding mother.
“The police officer involved in this rang later and told us there was a baby.”
“The Manager Custody [of the Women’s Prison] took the call and was surprised because she didn’t realise that the woman she had just received, has a two month old baby.”
“The father [of the baby] also rang Tafaigata directly. As soon as my Manager told me about the case, I said yes, tell the father to bring the baby immediately.”
“That’s how the baby ended up here. Because of the baby’s age, I feel it’s inhumane to separate them.”
This is not the first baby to stay at Tafaigata. There is currently also a second baby at Tafaigata with their mother.
Ulugia said, “Our policy is that when a pregnant prisoner comes in, they are allowed to go home for 6 to 8 weeks when they have the baby.”
“Then they have a choice whether to bring the baby or leave baby at home. That’s a decision we don’t interfere with. We allow them to make that decision.”
“The baby is an innocent person. We are allowing the family to decide. Some choose to bring them here.”
Mothers are allowed to keep their babies with them for up to 12 months. They must then arrange for a foster parent, their partner, grandparents or other aiga to care for the child.
“Fortunately in most cases the women are only here short term and they get released before that. When they’re here longer, we allow them time to go take the baby home and wean them and get adjusted to their new situation.”
“The mother can also go for weekends and come back. This is all done because we feel that the baby is the innocent person here, and in compliance with CRC standards.” (Convention on the Rights of the Child)
When asked whether the Tafaigata prison living conditions were suitable for an infant, Ulugia conceded that they were not ideal, but they are trying their best with the limited resources.
“The female prison is the more modern facility here. It was renovated in 2013. The conditions of the cells are good.”
Ulugia said that women with babies do not stay with other prisoners. “Two mothers are celled together, close to the office, in a facility with lots of fresh air. They don’t get locked at the same evening time as the others. They have more leeway.”
“What happens here all the women help. I let my staff know to be very alert that baby is well looked after. Everyone wants to help look after them.”
Last week, Tafiau’s baby was sick and staff took both of them to the National Hospital to see a doctor.
“As soon as baby was coughing a lot, we didn’t take any chances, we took them to the hospital immediately.”
Ulugia said they are looking forward to the new prison that will be built soon. “Our new facility at Tanumalala will have a special facility for mothers and babies. Its Phase 3 of our project. To have a house where mothers and babies are kept separately, trying to ensure the child has the best possible care.”
The rights of children of incarcerated parents are set out in article 9 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. “States Parties shall ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will, except when competent authorities subject to judicial review determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures, that such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child.”
Further discussions on the Convention article state that, “Children of incarcerated parents are entitled to the same rights as all other children. Children of incarcerated parents have committed no crime and should not suffer because of the crimes of others. Nor should they be discriminated against because of the status of their parent(s). Children living in prison are not prisoners and should be able to enjoy the same rights, freedoms and opportunities as other children.”
Article 24 of the Convention also states, “Children have the right to good quality health care – the best health care possible – to safe drinking water, nutritious food, a clean and safe environment, and information to help them stay healthy.”