The Malta Independent 26 September 2018, Wednesday

Heavily pregnant inmates should be kept in hospital, not prison, lawyer says in judicial protest

Neil Camilleri Thursday, 12 July 2018, 16:43 Last update: about 3 months ago

Two Bulgarian pregnant women who were this week jailed for five months for pick pocketing should be kept at Mater Dei Hospital where they can receive pre-natal care, and not in prison, where conditions are inadequate, their lawyer is arguing.

Lawyer Etienne Calleja has filed a judicial protest calling on the Director of Prisons, Lieutenant Colonel (ret’d) Alexander Dalli to transfer the woman to hospital or else be held responsible for any medical incident that might occur.

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The women, Iliyana Ilieva, 23, and Genoveva Stoilova, 25, on Tuesday admitted to having stolen a handbag from a Sliema shop. They were caught on CCTV. The women returned the stolen items and cooperated with the police but were jailed for five months. Their lawyer intends to appeal the sentence.

In the judicial protest, the lawyer said both women are in an advanced stage of pregnancy. One of them is in vitro, the lawyer said. He explained that her situation was very delicate, adding that if she lost the child she would most likely not be able to conceive again.

Calleja said the prison director was duty bound at law to ensure that the women were kept in adequate conditions and that they received the necessary medical care.

He referred to a phone conversation he had had with the director, where the latter said he needed to consult with his staff before taking a decision. Calleja said the director should know what needs to be done and he should not have to consult.

The fact that the director had taken up the post just 12 days prior to the conversation was irrelevant, the lawyer charged.

Calleja said the director had told him that the inmates could make use of a nearby library, which was equipped with air conditioning. This, the lawyer said, showed how “insensitive” the prison director was to the needs of pregnant inmates.

He also accused the prison authorities of failing to carry out a medical evaluation on the inmates upon their arrival, as was normal procedure. When the women were eventually medically evaluated at the hospital they were not held there, but were taken back to the prison.

He also claimed that when they were taken back, the women were “forced” to sign documents in the absence of their lawyer. The documents were written in English – a language the women don’t speak, the lawyer said. When they refused, the women were shouted at and threatened, the lawyer claimed, adding that this was a grievous breach of their fundamental human rights.

The lawyer submitted a number of documents together with the judicial protest, including a letter he had sent to the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry for Home Affairs and National Security, in which he said it was unacceptable that inmates under the charged of the director of prisons who have entered the facility in gestation do not have their health properly assessed and are not, as permitted by law, transferred to hospital for pre-natal care.

“Not assessing these two pregnant inmates, one of whom has a very delicate pregnancy due to being in vitro, is to my mind and in this day and age an insanity of the highest order,” Calleja wrote.

“It is hugely irresponsible for the prison authorities to not have had these two women visited by a gynaecologist and not transferred to a hospital of clinic where any emergency, of one were to arise, can be dealt with expeditiously, properly and effectively.”

The lawyer said he had visited the prison block where the women were being held and found conditions to be “despicable and horrendous.” He said the women were being kept in “stifling and intolerable heat”, adding that there was a lack of air circulation and “generally low standards of hygiene which do not befit inmates who are in a state of pregnancy.”

This treatment is tantamount to “inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” he said. 

Replying to those claims, the Director of Prisons said in the past decade pregnant inmates were always kept at CCF until the medical staff deemed in necessary that they are transferred to hospital.

He also said the prison’s medical unit was following up on the women regularly and both are given the required medication. Both inmates are being frequently visited by the Prison Medical Officer and were also referred to Mater Dei Hospital to a gynaecologist. Dalli said the women were in normal and stable condition and did not require further attention.

The prison director said pre-natal treatment is already being provided “and if the necessity arises for any other treatment not provided by the Facility, then your clients are referred to Hospital.”

He also suggested that the lawyer request bail, so that his clients would be "in a better environment" at their onw home, not in prison.

 

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