No more room for criminals and mentally ill in Tonga prison

Nuku'alofa -- The current overcrowding of the Hu’atolitoli Prison and its psychiatric facility is a major concern for Tonga Prison Commissioner Semisi Tapueluelu.

More and more convicted criminals are being given suspended prison sentences because there is simply not anywhere to incarcerate them.

The issue of providing facilities for prisoners and appropriate care for mentally ill people has been a long-standing problem in Tonga.

As the economic system and lifestyles have changed and while policing and the courts have developed, the prison has not been able to keep up. In recent years increasing numbers of drugs and alcohol offenders and the psychiatric illnesses accelerated by substance abuse have caused a crisis for the prison system.

Dr. Mapa Puloka, the head psychiatrist at Vaiola Hospital, said he had been campaigning for a psychiatric facility for Hu’atolitoli since 1992. However, it did not become a reality until 2019, when the psychiatric dormitory at Hu’atolitoli was completed. Built outside of the main compound, in a secure area, the facility currently accommodates only eight patients.