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By Craig DeSilva

KOROR, Palau (January 18, 2000 - Radio Australia’s Asia Pacific/PIDP/CPIS)---Government and community leaders in Palau are praising the island republic’s new alternative correctional system that emphasizes rehabilitation and not punishment.

Instead of resorting to a punitive, western system of incarceration, hardcore criminals serving time at the Koror Correction and Rehabilitation Center continue to remain as active members of this island state, which has a population of 18,000 people.

The objective is to rehabilitate even the most violent criminals so they can be returned to the community as productive, law-abiding citizens.

During the day, the prison’s 58 offenders -- many of whom have been convicted of murder and armed robbery -- are allowed to leave the center to work in jobs.

The prisoners leave at dawn to either work in private companies, government offices, or on work farms. Their only punishment is that they must return to the prison by 6 p.m.

Under the program, the Minister of Justice assesses each prisoner’s case to determine if it is safe enough for him to be allowed outside of the jail.

The system is modeled after work-release programs in the United States.

The center uses locked doors in place of prison bars. It consists of a series of 14 rooms in a one-story concrete building with a main courtyard, where many prisoners spend their days watching television or working out with weights.

Prisoners also spend time carving traditional wooden crafts to be sold to Palau’s tourist market.

The prison is in the heart of Palau’s government office compound, right next to the Parliament and main shopping complex.

Some officials say this system can be used as a model for other countries.

But critics and supporters of the program admit it’s still too early to determine what kind of role this innovative system of punishment can play in the future of Palau.

Radio feature contributed by Radio Australia's Nicolette Jackson.

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