The Malta Independent 4 December 2020, Friday

TMIS Editorial: A review of the prison system is required

Sunday, 22 November 2020, 11:15 Last update: about 12 days ago

The goings-on at the Corradino Correctional Facility have been raising eyebrows for far too long, and these serious incidents cannot be ignored anymore.

We are not referring to the latest prison death which, an autopsy has confirmed, was caused by a previously undetected medical condition. While some sections of the media and politicians tried to give the impression that there was a more sinister reason behind the death, it seems that this was not the case.

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This death, however, was not the only one that has taken place over the past year or so.

In fact, Thursday’s incident was the 11th death that took place since the current prison director, retired Colonel Alexander Dalli, took over as head of the correctional service.

Dalli, a former army man, is considered to be a strict disciplinarian. He says that the prison is a now a place of obedience and claims that drugs have been practically eradicated. His methods, however, have been questioned over and over again.

These include the removal of conjugal visits for inmates, and the use of a “restraining chair” for unruly prisoners. It was also reported some weeks back that the director has even, on occasion, taken “privileged” prisoners to the beach.

As is often the case, questions sent to the government were not answered.

Then, this week, the lawyers representing Yorgen Fenech – the man who stands charged with being a mastermind in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia - said that one of them was “rudely” interrupted by Dalli as he was speaking to his client about an upcoming court sitting.

The lawyer claimed that the prison director objected to documents he had taken with him inside the facility, which were apparently needed for the meeting. The prison director reportedly told the lawyer off and said he did not “give a damn” and that everyone inside the prison must “obey” him. As a result of the incident, the lawyers have asked for the court’s protection, and the Chamber of Advocates said the “abusive” behaviour was unacceptable.

Reports about these questionable methods and incidents have never been quashed by the authorities, and the government, for some reason, has adopted an attitude of silence when it comes to most things that have to do with the prison, which only leads to more questions and speculation.

Perhaps this deafening silence is worst when it comes to prison deaths. Each time a prisoner dies, the government releases a short statement saying that an inmate was found dead in his cell and that a magisterial inquiry is underway. The conclusions of those inquiries are never made public. It is unclear whether the relatives are given more information than the media is.

What is clear is that the prison should not be run like the secret service. There should be more transparency about the methods employed, the conditions in which the inmates are kept and why certain decisions are taken. Inmates are, after all, still human beings with families outside who are eager to know what life inside is like and whether their relatives are being treated humanely or not.

The Opposition and civil society groups have asked for Dalli’s dismissal, laying blame for the deaths squarely at his feet. In reality, there could be more to these stories, but this media blackout will not help clear the air.

It is pointless to appoint magisterial inquiries into prison deaths if their outcome is kept under wraps. If something is wrong at the prisons, to the extent that people are taking their own lives, then action must be taken, but we, the public, must also be given an explanation.

The government should also launch an urgent review on the way in which the prisons are run, to see if things are being done in full conformity with human rights. We have been hearing for far too long that the prison is a place of punishment, rather than reformation. We need to know if this is truly the case. And if it is, then things have to change.

 

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