The price of progress is sometimes high. Ever since independence parts of Papua New Guinea have experienced higher than average crime rates. Some public areas have acquired the unenviable reputation of being quite unsafe. The “raskol ” problem is fundamentally one of alienated, jobless youths, many of whom have drifted to the cities from their villages, only to discover that neither work nor other occupation can be found there. They resort to violent crime to live and the result may be that they end up in prison.
The prisons of Papua New Guinea contain 3,500 inmates, about half of whom are prisoners on remand, that is, awaiting their trials. Both convicted prisoners and prisoners on remand provide a challenge to the Ministry of Correctional Institutional Services. “Prisons cannot be just dumping grounds,” says Minister Sylvanius Siembo, echoing educated opinion worldwide. ” A prison sentence is not only punishment. It is an opportunity to effect behavioural change in the prisoner and to equip him with the skills which he can use to lead a crime-free life on his release.”
The fundamental cause for the criminalization of sections of Papua New Guinean society seems to lie in the loss of significant roles for young men brought about by the shift from tribal to globalized modern society. In the very recent past many young men in Papua New Guinea spend long periods being initiated into the duties expected of them in their tribal society. These often involve the maintenance of the very rules by which that society lived, the tabus, rituals and behaviours which governed not only daily life but which also held the key to the understanding of both this world and the spirit world. Suddenly, with western contact and especially with missionization, this vocation was demolished and nothing has replaced it. So while young women can find their traditional roles both confirmed and expanded by the process of modernization, this is not quite so easy for young men. They are susceptible to the power of macho images and concepts such as ‘pay-back’, which at its worst is merely a form of revenge. The problem remains of what to do for these young men, as does the problem they constitute for the rest of society. Many have not been apprehended because of problems experienced by the police in carrying out their duties. In fact there is a fear that some of the gangs have become institutionalized and are already involved in rackets and crimes involving politicians and village leaders who protect them. Those raskols who have been apprehended eventually find themselves in one of the correctional services’ institutions.
The correctional institutions have suffered from poor conditions, with overcrowded premises, no new buildings and low staff morale. The recent elevation in status of the former Department to a Ministry, putting it on the same footing as the Ministry of Police and the Ministry of Defence, is expected to have a beneficial effect. There has already been an improvement in staff morale. Australia has provided an aid package worth K50 million for the correctional institutions. Conditions in gaols are planned to improve. “The law and order issue is the most significant issue for Government,” says Minister Siembo.