Pacific Corrections Commissions encourage ‘local-led solutions’

(L-R) ICRC Protection Coordinator Jens-Martin Mehler and Fiji Corrections Deputy Commissioner Apakuki Qura

A locally-led solution might be the answer to the common challenges Pacific Regional Corrections Commissions face in their communities.

This suggestion was put forward by the Acting National Commissioner for the New Zealand Department of Corrections during the 2nd Pacific Corrections Executive Roundtable (PCER) in Fiji this month.

“We come to this sort of forum with the mindset that we’ve got a lot to learn. One of the areas we are pushing on in New Zealand corrections is to identify locally-led solutions to initiatives, and the most successful initiatives are the ones that really resonate with the local communities and aren’t just a cookie cutter approach,” said Ben Clark.

“I think that is one of the areas that we can learn from our Pacific partners,” he said.

The two-day roundtable discussion was co-hosted by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and included corrections commissioners from Samoa, Kiribati, Vanuatu, Palau, Nauru, Fiji (host country) and New Zealand.

This was a chance for the regional corrections commissioners to regroup and come up with better ways to handle crises within the region. The ICRC Protection Coordinator, Jens-Martin Mehler, highlighted how the correction commissioners spoke of the recent challenges they faced: “The roundtable discussions highlighted that the pandemic was a challenge for the public health services as they were strained in terms of providing sufficient support to the prisons.”

This issue pushed the prison to come up with alternative solutions within the prison system, ensuring COVID protocols were also implemented in prison. However, this became an issue as well.

“Prisons also found it hard to isolate prisoners, and some prisons needed to find places to put new detainees,” Mehler added.

Other measures prisons implemented to ensure COVID protocols were followed included no face-to-face visitations for prisoners and movement restrictions.

Climate change was also an issue presented at the roundtable and the Pacific Correctional Commissioners acknowledged the risk of rising sea levels for prisons situated close to the seashore.

According to Fiji Corrections Services Commissioner, Francis Kean, the Forum was an opportunity to engage in constructive discussions.

“We are very thankful to the ICRC for putting this together for us and inviting the heads of the other regional correctional services around the Pacific just to come and listen to each other and to see what the best practises are that we can piggyback on to implement in our own jurisdictions,” said Kean.

The 3rd Pacific Corrections Executive Roundtable 2023 will be hosted by the New Zealand Department of Corrections.