Tonga prison head optimistic of resolution to overcrowding

This story by RNZ.co.nz is republished with permission

Tonga’s head of prisons is hopeful a severe overcrowding problem will be resolved soon.

Hu’atolitoli, on Tongatapu, is badly overcrowded with the Prison Commissioner Semisi Tapueluelu, saying cells built for one were now housing up to four inmates.

Tapueluelu said there were 51 cells, which should each hold one person each, however he said sometimes the prison roster was as high as 180.

There were also inmates with psychiatric issues in Hu’atolitoli because the main clinic at Vaiola Hospital was sending erratic and hard to control patients to the jail.

The commissioner said there were a number of reasons for the growing prison population.

He said this included people who’d committed drug offences, juveniles and those jailed for breaking Covid-19 detention rules, while the number of psychiatric patients was also up.

Tapueluelu said these patients were simply provided with accommodation – there was no medical care available to them.

But he recently invited government ministers to tour the prison and he said there was now the political will to ensure changes were made.

Tapueluelu wouldn’t be drawn on what changes might be made, but he felt the MPs understood the issue and the needed to do something about it.

The man who headed up the psychiatric facility at the Vaiola hospital, Dr Mapa Puloka, said the key issue for him was that there was some facility at the prison that could house female psychiatric patients separately, so they were not just included in with other prisoners.

He also confirmed reports that the explosion in drug use in Tonga in recent years had led to more psychiatric cases.

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