The Malta Independent 10 December 2022, Saturday
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Rising above prisoners’ past and reintegrating them into society

Giulia Magri Sunday, 24 March 2019, 10:30 Last update: about 5 years ago

Giulia Magri speaks to RISE Foundation chairperson CHARLES MIFSUD about the foundation’s work – reintegrating prisoners back into society by giving them the skills and knowledge to be prepared for the outside world’s fast-paced society

The Maltese prison population has been increasing at a relatively fast pace. According to the Council of Europe, the number of prisoners at Corradino Correctional Facility has increased by more than 80 per cent over 10 years. The report highlights than between 2005 and 2015 the prison population rate grew by 81 per cent, as in 2005 there were 74 inmates per 100,000 inhabitants and that figure escalated to 134 inmates by 2015. According to the most recent data, the highest number of prisoners last year was recorded on December 2017, when 599 inmates were at the correctional facility.

Reports show that the number of female inmates has also increased; by the end of 2017 there were 58 women, up from 37 of the previous year. Many argue that the Maltese prison system is just a means of punishment rather than that of reform, and although it is important that justice is served and criminals are sentenced according to the crimes committed, one should take into consideration what happens to these individuals once they are back in society after they leave prison. It should be in everyone’s interest that when these people are released they are in better shape than when they went in.

A topic which is not new, but not discussed enough, is the reintegration of prisoners back into society and should be one that is given a great importance. One should ask “what challenges do these people face once they have served their time in prison?” which can be followed by “what can we do to ensure that these people do not commit further crimes, disrupt the safety of the community, and create more victims?”

One day these prisoners will re-join society and be someone’s neighbour, so it is important that this person is given the necessary skills and knowledge to feel prepared to live in this extremely fast-paced society, which is exactly what RISE Foundation works to achieve.

 

Rehabilitation programme outside the prison cell

With the safety of society in mind, RISE Foundation’s rehabilitation programme for offenders aims to re-integrate them back in society, to become productive citizens and refrain from further criminal activity. The Foundation has been doing just that for the past five years.

According to the chairperson of RISE Foundation Charles Mifsud, “The process of reintegration affects ex-convicts in different ways, mentally, physically and emotionally. The programme prepares individuals for the many challenges and changes they will face once they serve their sentence, so as a Foundation we believe it is important that such a programme takes place outside the prison cell.”

Mifsud said it is important that the Foundation provides these prisoners a safe place to go to when they are released or applying for parole, and not to go back on the streets or return to crime groups.

He explained that currently there are nine male participants in the programme that is split into three phases and spread over a four-month period. The first phase is for prisoners to settle back into society and understand what they will be facing once they leave prison. “They live in residences in Valletta where they are provided with the necessary life skills, employment skills and cognitive behaviour therapy, things which can provide the necessary training from the very beginning.” He explained that the plans are specialised and personalised for each individual to help him reduce the risk of returning to a life of crime. He further explains that the benefit of working with individuals on a personal level can provide essential insight as to what work would be best for them when looking for a job.

“We believe that going to prison is just one part of the justice system but justice is not served by simply throwing someone in prison, but that their progress is evident when they are out in society.” The second phase includes the Foundation meeting potential employers as individuals take a tentative step forward to join the work force. He added that the prisoners spent a large part of their time in prison doing nothing and not giving anything to society, “therefore it takes time to adjust”. He explains that depending on each individual’s progress, they start community work, and in that way they benefit from being productive while also giving back to society.

 

Providing family time outside prison – with slight limitations

Mifsud delves into the gradual system towards individuals having family visits. “Such visits are extremely different from the ones experienced in prison. Here we provide the individuals the freedom to meet their family, with certain regulations. First we allow the individual to spend two hours with their family in Valletta; that way you are giving the individual and the family the freedom to see each other outside prison but also making sure that they are responsible by not breaking the rules and using their time wisely.”

In the final phase, the individual begins to concentrate on a balanced lifestyle, understanding the value and importance of work and family. Mifsud said that by the end of the programme, not only are the hours of work increased, but also family visiting hours, and slowly they are allowed to go outside Valletta, and eventually even visit their homes. “This way they are able to get used to the house environment and the way their homes and family have developed in their absence and how they must adjust to this.”

 

Plans to outreach rehabilitation programme for women

Mifsud explained that at the moment there are 50 people waiting to join the programme, but that there is not enough place in the residence for such a large number. “We are working on a second residential place, and we hope to provide a community home for women, providing female ex-offenders the same opportunities as their male counterparts.”

Statistics have shown that the rate of relapse inmate is at its highest in three years and that one in seven prisoners is a repeat offender. When asked what would be the main reason for this rise in relapsers, Mifsud stressed the importance that ex-convicts have the necessary support after leaving prison. “Many men are worried that people will judge them for just coming out of prison and that might drive them back to a life of crime.” He said that many feel like an outsider when they leave prison and long-term awareness and planning is essential. “We understand that one third of these inmates are related to one another, therefore many come from a family based on criminality; so we do our best to make sure that once these people leave prison they do not return to a life of crime.”

 

The media plays an important part in progress – or the lack of it

Mifsud reflected that whilst the prison system is slowly taking on more reforms to improve the current situation, society and the role of the media also play a huge part in the reintegration of prisoners back into society. “Every day, the eight o’clock news has a specific slot about the latest Court case and crime, shedding a bad light on the individual even before the final verdict.” He said that before crime and court cases stop being popularised, people will always stigmatise prisoners. “We do not consider the effect on the family, wives and parents of the individual. Giving their full name on national news can have a devastating effect on the family; some members find out on television or gossip from their peers.”

He said that society must understand that there needs to be a balance between punishment and reforming these prisoners, so that they are able to reintegrate and become better citizens; that not just professionals, but referral points outside prison such as social housing and social services need to work together to improve the current crime situation.

“The stigma will remain forever – criminality has always existed and will remain, but we can reduce the number of prisoners returning to a life of crime if we work together to make sure that they are better people when they leave than when they first entered prison.”

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