The Malta Independent 23 January 2021, Saturday

The clock is ticking and fast – colonel, it is time to move on!

Andrew Azzopardi Wednesday, 2 December 2020, 07:31 Last update: about 3 months ago

The problems with our criminal justice system remain titanic. What I am deeply concerned with is that there is a lack of grit and tenacity to make changes.  I am still hopeful that the current Ministers responsible for Justice and for Home Affairs jump in with both feet, risk being unpopular and take the righteous decisions.

This is just a fraction of what needs to be tackled;

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1.       We need a smaller prison which is really and truly rehabilitative for all.  A prison system which should be fair and founded on the principles of dignity and worthiness.  It shouldn’t be about breaking people through the use of solitary confinement and shamed methods. 

2.       We need to re-think parole.  We also need to remove life sentencing and recalibrate laws related to drugs especially when it comes to personal use.  The infamous ‘Police Conduct’ procedure needs to be reviewed from the roots upwards.

3.       We need to have a three-year plan set in place to bring down the population of our prisons to 1/3 of what it currently is and half of those remaining in the next three years.  With so many people awaiting sentencing, with so many incarnated for petty thefts and with the lack of alternative methods of redemption this will remain fractious.  I believe that if we really ‘want to’ (now that’s the crux of the matter) with the batting of an eye we can do this.   

4.       We need to work with the community to create alternatives to traditional law enforcement.  Crime is intricately linked with mental health and addiction. Our model of policing should take this into consideration.  I have belief in the leadership of the Malta Police Force.

5.       We need to reduce the reliance on incarceration and its use as a first port of call. The lower-level offenders that are crowding Corradino are simply getting a first-hand experience on how to take crime to the next level.  The current rationale used there at the moment is nowhere near close to healing the wounds of these people and because of that they will be back in the community ready to pounce again on the vulnerable. 

6.       We need, if at all, a system of incarceration that values people, helps them develop their potential and seeks to prepare them for the transition back into community. The role of NGOs is fundamental here.  They should have total and full access to all inmates.

7.       We need to redirect national funds toward criminal justice solutions that actually work.  Commissioned reports and strategies are good but it’s the implementation that always fails us. The principle here is to take away our focus from the shenanigans (first it’s fancy uniforms and swords now its bullet proof cars) and focus more on integration and psycho-social programs.

8.       We need to put an end to mandatory minimum sentencing.

9.       We need to reinvest into evidence-based community programs in the field of mental health and drug addiction. 

10.   We need to dedicate at least a quarter of a million euros of research per annum to the UM to provide evidence and policy recommendations.  The role of Univeristy should be to provide as much evidence-based data as possible. It is in this way that that we will increase community health and safety rather than knee-jerk solutions.

11.   We need to have more coordination between what happens in our schools, prison, our police, our communities and our Courts of Justice.

12.   Magistrates and Judges need to have more resources to turn to rather than simply sentencing people to prison because options are few and hard between.  Having said that some members of the judiciary need to let go and realize that the world does not spin around them and they might need to take the plunge and change their systems to be able to respond to the current needs.

13.   We need to work to reduce recidivism and provide meaningful second chances.

14.   We need to ensure all juveniles are given a care program run by youth workers and they should never be placed in the main prison system.

15.   We need to demilitarize our prison – it shouldn’t have never been placed in the hands of a self-absorbed and commanding person.

16.   We need to have a proper programme with victims of crime and with perpetrators who are victims themselves.

17.   We need people trained in social care management if they are in leading positions in this field of play.

18.   We need to keep in mind that the criminal justice system should not be run by fear but by respect, love and justice. We need to have the right people in these important roles.  With the change in AG, the change in Commissioner of Police, the appointment of a new Chief Justice, the appointment of the State Advocate, the appointment of the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, the review of segments of the Constitution, the change in Ministers responsible for ‘justice’ and ‘national security’, new and improved laws – there is some hope but we know that a system is as strong as its weakest link.

‘No individual is bigger that the team’. 

We often use this analogy in team sports where players, either because they are highly rated or else because they are made to think that they are stars, start thinking that ‘they are the team and the team is them’. These people become a liability to the rest of the squad. The risk is that it all starts revolving around them and the consequence is it all spirals down. This is exactly what is happening in our correctional system (‘prison’) - one of the most important loop in our justice system. 

The incarceration system is simply ‘producing’ more prisoners, with a very high relapse rate and hardly any community-based sanctions in place. In fact, the discourse is centering around having an extension of the prison built to the current one – and believe me it will be filled in very quickly because politicians know that their constituents will find comfort in ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’. Let’s say it. Decision making is not evidence-based. Intergenerational crime rate is also very high. The system is imploding – it’s there in ‘your’ face to see. 

It is time for Director Dalli to move to new pastures not because he has done everything wrong – there sure are the odd contributions he brought about. If you had to ask me, I think he really believed in what he did. But I am convinced his self-belief is what is bringing the prison down. It is interesting that the Ministry is already vigilant and hardly trusting him. They send a chaperon to watch over him when he meets journalists. I experienced this myself when I interviewed him on the 29/9 with this young ministry official sitting there taking notes and messaging all through the meeting. I believe that they know he has become a liability to the system. It was clear he felt uncomfortable and restricted. But there are two hurdles;

-          Firstly, Director Dalli knows that very few will be ready to take this job on board especially with the miserable financial package and conditions of work, so he has the upper hand.

-          Secondly, Director Dalli is well known to be very close to former Prime Minister Muscat which in itself is not anything that bothers me. However, he carries the wallop and might not be easy for the administration to relocate him because of this.      

For Director Dalli, life is what it is and when you have dedicated so much time and effort, yes it might feel undeserved, but the clock is ticking. He has made himself bigger than the institution blurring the vision because he stands between the ‘mission’ and the appraising systems, whether it’s media, policy and politicians).  We all end up speaking about his tomfooleries rather than about what needs to be repaired;  doubts on the way inmates are dealt with; the inability of the Minister to manage him; the deaths that occurred in the prison these last years (11 and counting); the never-ending inquiries; the suspicion many family members have on what is happening there; the way he relates to lawyers; the bizarre decisions allegedly taken for example to have BBQs during the pandemic lockdown; news reports mentioning alcohol consumption in prison and the list could go on.

It is time for Director Dalli to move on and maybe serve and take some leading role in the military. 

We have ended up doubting the operations, the systems and the methods because of his methodology. The Government in many instances has ended up having to defend him rather than deal with the issues – it surely is the end of the line – no one is bigger than the institution they lead.

 

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