The Malta Independent 8 March 2021, Monday

Locked out – timely assistance for the families of the incarcerated

Marika Azzopardi Sunday, 17 January 2021, 08:50 Last update: about 3 months ago

It all began some 25 odd years ago when a group of inmates at what was then still known as the Corradino Prison, requested permission to organise informal meetings that would serve the purpose of a self-made support group. Since then, much has transpired to help make this support a reality and as 2021 beckons, it is now also the families of the incarcerated who can look forward to receiving support.

In 1993/94 just after the Corradino Prison changed its name to Corradino Correctional Facility, these same inmates who had in the meantime been released from prison, continued working from the outside to consolidate their efforts at providing support to other inmates, and in 1995 Mid-Dlam ghad-Dawl (MDD) was officially established. The aim was and remains that of improving living conditions inside the prison, with the association now being affiliated with the Action for Prisoners' Families of England and Wales (APF), the European Group of Prisoners' Abroad (EGPA) and the Children of Prisoners Europe (COPE).

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In 2015, MDD initiated social research that looked into the realities faced by families and children of the incarcerated in Malta. This led to the publication of Locked Out (2016), with both publication and research being financed through a grant from The Malta Community Chest Fund under the President of the Republic of Malta, with the project being carried out by the Institute of Family Therapy – Malta (IFT-Malta), in collaboration with Mid-Dlam ghad-Dawl and Prisms.

The results of the research were staggering and prompted further action in this direction, so that during last year, the then Home Affairs, National Security and Law Enforcement Minister Michael Farrugia took immediate action towards the development of a special project to help families and children. Just recently, current Home Affairs, National Security and Law Enforcement Minister Byron Camilleri announced substantial investment in a project with Mid-Dlam għad-Dawl, ensuring that prisoners and their families and children receive therapy. The five measures governing the project include case management, therapy sessions, sessions on parenting education, individualised and specialised psychotherapy and group therapy. The goal is to reduce the probability of recidivism, reduce transgenerational transmission of crime and finally reduce the social exclusion of the prisoners’ families and children.

MDD chairperson George Busuttil explains: "With the launch of this programme, the staple work carried out by MDD closes the circle. From its inception MDD wanted to bring prisoners and their families closer together. But the assistance and support that could be given was unstructured, notwithstanding all good intentions. Locked Out was born from a raised awareness of the needs and difficulties of children of incarcerated people, an awareness that continued to be made manifest after we joined COPE some eight years ago. The research and publication led to an important conference and it all inspired us to push forward, design a project and apply for the granting of premises in Cospicua, and subsequently the funding of this new therapeutic project, which will be receiving the professional input of family therapists trained in the field."

Family therapist Maria Jones was one of the professionals from the Institute of Family Therapy Malta engaged in the research project and this experience brought her in close touch with families and children who have an incarcerated family member. "Meeting family members; be they parents, spouses, siblings or sons and daughters was extremely eye-opening for me. The families and children themselves suffer the sentence on their own skins, even though they are not the ones who committed the crime. Typically, they live the shame, isolation and stigma, so that they feel undeserving of the society they live in. Add to this, the typical financial burdens caused by the aftermath of crime and/or court sentence and these are, more often than not, borne by the families. Most times it is the parents and/or spouses/partners who have to pay for the lawyers, cover debts, seek alternative accommodation and so on. Parenting becomes singlehanded and some people have to give up their homes to pay heavy debts or because they cannot cope with bank loans by themselves. Anger, grudges, frustration and obligation are enmeshed. As therapists our work is to strengthen these teetering relationships and maintain familial contact, also to strive to keep inter-generational crime at bay."

The project also fits in neatly into the present state of affairs which has seen the Corradino Correctional Facility limiting access to MDD members, and this not only due to Covid-19 measures, but also because of a series of administrative directives that limited access to all NGOs who work in collaboration with the facility. MDD deputy chairperson Matthew Agius clarifies: "Before 2018 we had direct contact with the inmates and were allowed inside the facility to meet the inmates on a weekly basis. Our presence was felt where it was needed. This direct contact was our lifeblood as an association and our presence was accepted unquestioningly. Now we cannot access individual cells but at least get to meet inmates in a separate room. With this project we trust we will regain some of the personal contact we had, so that we may continue our work as before.”

Locked Out shall be offering timely therapeutic assistance to the families of the incarcerated. Interested persons may contact the project leaders via the Locked Out Facebook page or by calling directly on 7777 8001.

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