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John Roughan: Rove . . . the New Reality!

Rove . . . the New Reality!

By John Roughan in Honiara
1 March 2004

Solomon Islands justice system is flexing its muscles once again. This was not the case in the recent past. The 1987-1997 years--leading up to our Social Unrest period--saw a serious weakening of the justice system. Police crime investigations, rigorous court proceedings followed up by a strong prison system seriously weakened across the nation. These vital nation-building steps designed to keep a whole people safe and sound existed more on paper than in real life. Serious criminal behaviour, unless really evil, like murder, severe bodily harm, rape, found the justice system full of holes. Many figured they could beat it. Rove Prison, they thought, was the resting place for those who were not clever enough. Recently, however, things have changed dramatically.

The Solomons Justice System now has real teeth, teeth that bite. Ask any of the 200+ inmates who currently reside in Rove Prison serving months and years behind prison bars. Human beings across the world need a constant reminder that places like Rove are ready and willing to take them in. Strict (harsh?) living conditions for those who break the law, those who hurt others in serious ways now awaits them.

During our Social Unrest years--1998-2003--, however, our justice system took a serious nose dive. Police officers dedicated to protect the public good, who had pledged to up hold the Constitution, were often guilty of the very crimes they were supposed to guard people from. Courts don't function well unless the police seriously investigate crimes and bring criminals to court. It is then up to the judges to hear these cases, think deeply about the prosecution's evidence and listen to the defendant's arguments. Once those steps are taken, a judgement is made whether the person is guilty of the crime or not. If found guilty, then the judge passes sentence.

But all these steps--police investigation, answering criminal charges, court proceedings and sentencing--vitally depend upon a prison system that actually works. A solid prison system keeps criminals behind bars until the full sentence has been served. The whole system--police work, court proceedings and functioning prisons--make up the Justice System. Miss out on any one of these steps, e.g. a weakened prison system, and the whole justice thing collapses. That's what happened during our Social Unrest years.

Unfortunately, had the unrest period lasted but a few months or at the most a year, then the attitude that it was easy to get away with serious crimes would have not rooted as firmly as it has. Five years of Social Unrest has fostered an attitude that crime, no matter how serious, could be gotten away with. Today's Rove Prison shows this to be a lie.

Today's Rove is a far cry from the colonial days, say in the 1960s. In those days, prison life was hard but friendly. Not so these days! The punishment part of today's Rove stands out clearly. Strict rules dominate the prisoner's day and there are few smiling guards. Rove prison now stands as a pretty hard place to live. The no-nonsense police presence makes it clear to prisoners that they are there to serve their time with as little fuss as possible. Obey the rules, keep your head down low and at the end you could come out a better person or at least a wiser one.

No doubt some criminals still walk free in Honiara and in other places. RAMSI has made it their number one priority not so much to fill up Rove but to imprison those who tried to destroy this nation for their own greedy purposes. Our five years of Social Unrest saw many terrible crimes against the innocent, especially the kids (their futures robbed from them) and wives whose families were destroyed. Few people get pleasure out of taking an other person's freedom away and use it as a punishment. But for some, it's the only way to make a dent in their understanding that hurting others, destroying their possessions and bringing serious disruption to the lives of others, a place of imprisonment waits for them.

Rove Prison is a stark reminder that if one's conscience can't keep you on the straight and narrow, then there's a place waiting for those who fail to learn that lesson.


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