Cook Islands Government Warned About Possible Prison Escapes Three Years Ago

Lack of funding issue raised in wake of tragic shooting by escapee

By Richard Moore 

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Nov. 2, 2016) – In the wake of the Titikaveka shooting tragedy the CI News has discovered that the government was warned three years ago of the increasing likelihood of prison escapes.

And - over the past three years - the Justice ministry has told the government that a lack of funding is causing serious problems within the jail system, including too few staff and, in particular, the need to boost prisoner transfer security with a prison van.

The warnings are contained in the ministry’s 2012-2013, 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 annual reports.

Other concerns raised in the reports were poor pay for prison officers, security fears and the jail having to house – and look after – “mentally disturbed” inmates or patients.

The 2012-13 report even predicted the likelihood of an escape.

In July of this year three men escaped from Arorangi Prison, one of whom stole a motorbike, threatened the owner and police with a weapon, before being cornered and re-arrested.  

Then last month Chris Rimamotu escaped from the back of a work truck, collected a firearm and killed his ex-partner and her boyfriend before turning the gun on himself.

In the 2014-15 report it was stated: “The efficiency and effectiveness of the prison is affected by a lack of staff and transport.

“There is a need to increase the number of staff to have three prison officers on each shift.

“Also there is a need to acquire another vehicle, suitable for escorting duties, like a van for the prison.”

Points raised in the 2012-13 report include:

  • The Prison Service is still under-staffed, with two staff looking after a population of inmates that average 35, every day of the year on night shift. There is potential of a breakout in the future.
  • Due to a lack of facilities, the prison is being used to accommodate mentally disturbed inmates/patients and this places more stress on the prison wardens who are not trained to deal with mental health issues.

Sections of the annual reports highlight the need to rehabilitate prisoners and one of the main ways was through letting them go out into the community to work.

That re-integration would not only earn the prisoners money, but also help the ministry reduce its costs through getting foodstuffs in exchange for work.

A prisoner with skills could earn $10 [US$7.20] an hour, while those without key skills could earn $6 [US$4.30] an hour. The monies would be put into an inmate’s bank account for his or her use, or to assist them when they were released.

Cook Islands News
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