The Malta Independent 25 September 2022, Sunday
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Former inmate speaks out: Disciplinary actions ‘rarely’ follow prescribed procedure

Sunday, 21 November 2021, 08:15 Last update: about 11 months ago

The ways in which disciplinary actions are meted out at the Corradino Correctional Facility are “slipshod and rarely follow a prescribed procedure”, which allows for various parties in authority “to abuse their power as it goes unchecked by any external board,” according to a detailed report sent to The Malta Independent on Sunday by an anonymous former inmate.

The former prisoner penned a manuscript which was anonymously sent to this newsroom as well as the Office of the Ombudsman, the Board of inquiry looking into the internal prison procedures and the Home Affairs Ministry, among others. The 41-page document details the treatment of prisoners at the Corradino Correctional Facility and outlines the issues seen and experienced by this former prisoner.

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The author referred to the prisoner’s handbook, which states that where an inmate is charged with an offence against discipline, he shall be informed of the charge and be given “full opportunity of hearing what is alleged against him and of presenting his own case.”

“This is absolutely not the case,” the former prisoner claims. “Some disciplinary measures often go unreported by those issuing them, leaving the inmate with no recourse to claim his rights have been abused, or simply to appeal.”

The former inmate gave an account of what generally occurs. “Inmates are informed (and sometimes not) that they have received a report from a member of staff. It is not uncommon that some inmates are not even aware that they have been reported, and therefore would not be in a position to defend themselves or appeal”.

“Once every so often (unscheduled), members of authority get together and call the inmates concerned up to issue punishment, which 99.9% of the time involves confinement in their cells for a number of days. The time that elapses from when the report is issued to being dealt with varies. I have met inmates claiming they had been confined for offences reported years before, but generally months pass (…) This is mainly done for smaller infractions such as answering back to a guard.”

The author states that reports have proven to be ineffective, as they do not address the problem when it occurs. “They rather shelve it and particularly are seen as a hassle and inconvenience to most guards that have to write them up.”

“Most guards opt for immediate confinement without any benefit of a hearing or an appeal, which never happens anyway. Attempting to quantify the number of inmates that are subject to cellular confinement is impossible based solely on reports as most go undocumented.”

The author has also witnessed situations where an inmate was meant to be checked hourly at night due to suicide risk, but the said duty was not performed.

Regarding the prisoner’s handbook, the former prisoner states that not everyone receives a copy and most regulations are prone to change or are adapted to whomever the Major is or which officer is on call. “They are often in the dark about official regulations as much as prisoners are, which creates a very tense environment when inmates are often punished with confinement for actions they didn’t even know were disallowed. An inmate in Division 5 was given 10 days solitary confinement for feeding a pigeon. Another in Division 12 was given cellular confinement for wearing flip-flops in the gym.”

The author states that the main bone of contention fuelling most lack of respect towards guards is the “state of rulelessness” which is propagated “by constantly contradicting one another on prison regulation, or clearly making it up as they go along. This is a trademark of the current authority – it is not discipline, it is force and abuse of power.”

There are several other issues highlighted in the manuscript by the former prisoner. The author states that family extended visits have been removed. “The playroom, which served to allow inmates with young children to visit in an environment that didn’t feel like a prison for the children, no longer exists and has become a division for inmates in prison labour.”

“Visits in general have been severely curbed for everyone, many claiming that the pandemic was taken advantage of to implement an even tighter regime which allows for even less family contact.”

The former inmate’s manuscript also makes reference to education within the prison, however says that the “education unit is a joke.”

“The right to education is treated like a box-ticking exercise that hassles the prison authority, rather than the very mission and purpose they ought to serve.”

The author also highlights medical related issues. “The M.I. Clinic Staff worked on a triage system, which insisted that one must explain to the nurse who came, accompanied by a guard, through a metal gate or perspex screen to administer pills in the morning, the reason for requesting the doctor or dentist. This was not handled on a first-come, first served basis, but rather in order of priority (understandably so). The result, exacerbated by the nurse/guard’s poor command of English (considering most are foreign), and most inmates inability to communicate in English is a mess. Some inmates, in desperate and urgent need of medical intervention, went weeks/months without it, because of this lack of organisation and an unwillingness to put the patient first, above efficiency.”

“This registration needs to happen daily – adding to tensions when your request to visit is not seen to. The nurses never provided reasons why the doctor/dentist could not see you, and clearly there was little handover from one to another, needing then that the inmate must submit his request multiple times to multiple people (…) I have seen inmates clawing at the guard door, crying for help with tooth pain that went unseen, inmates with back problems who had to plead to be taken for an x-ray after weeks of continuous pain.”

Colonel Alex Dalli recently suspended himself after another inmate suicide. This was the 14th prison death under his watch. The Home Affairs Ministry had ordered an internal review of prison processes. The inquiry is set to report back to the ministry with its findings and recommendations at the end of this month. A number of magisterial inquiries into prisoner deaths are also underway.

 

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