Inside the Bermuda Triangle of Corradino

Beyond the recriminations, there is a bubble waiting to burst inside Corradino Correction Facility

I had never heard about Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Dalli. I knew he was an AFM pilot and that was about it. His assistant at Corradino Correctional Facility is a certain Randolph Spiteri I happen to know, a very close friend of David Casa, who I remember from the good old days of the campaign group Iva Malta fl-Ewropa. 

When I did first meet Dalli in an interview for the programme Xtra on TVM, I was shocked. I am no psychotherapist but after five minutes listening to Dalli, I had to pinch myself and ask if this man was for real. He comes across as a quasi-narcissist, egocentric, completely oblivious to the leaps and bounds this small nation has achieved in human rights over the last two decades. And I think his views of correctional discipline are dangerous. A man who thinks that his militaristic and autocratic style will benefit the inmates simply because public opinion is on his side could end up believing that he has no limits. 

Beyond the 11 prison deaths in such a short span – which are indicators of the kind of environment the inmates live in – the histories that have been recounted to me by terrorised inmates who left Kordin describe a man who is in love with himself and carries out his rule at Kordin with a mixture of autocracy flavoured by screaming and blasphemy. Until now, every death has led to a magisterial inquiry which in typical Maltese fashion takes ages to come to a firm conclusion. 

Which is why the buck in this case stops with the home affairs minister, who happens to be Byron Camilleri. Camilleri is probably one of the youngest home affairs ministers to be ever appointed, and he has full faith in Alex Dalli, which is exactly why Dalli continues to operate as if there was no tomorrow. It is not only his antics and attitude which are a problem, but the fact that he controls the prison as if it were his fiefdom. 

He even went as far as naming a Division by the number 17 simply because Yorgen Fenech was one of the inmates (17 Black... geddit?)... even though there is no Division 16. Dalli has even curbed prisoner charities’ presence inside, for “security reasons”. 

He confirmed that contrary to what used to happen before, prisoners are informed over a megaphone that NGO representatives are inside the facility and whoever wants a meeting could come forward. “For security reasons, I had to control visits by NGOs,” Dalli said dryly on Xtra as he defended his disciplinarian approach since being appointed director three years ago. He believes his methods have turned a facility that was in his words “out of control and full of drugs” into a place of “respect and discipline”. He and his minister deny that his harsh approach is an affront to human dignity. “All inmates ended up in prison because at some point in their life they clashed with discipline and so that is the first thing they have to learn,” he has argued. 

And he defends his decision to isolate prisoners in Division 6 upon entry into the facility, denying though that they are placed in solitary confinement. “Division 6 is a normal division like all others where prisoners can speak with each other and this came to good use during the pandemic because it enabled us to isolate entrants before allowing them to join the rest of the prison population,” Dalli said. 

Dalli has also been accused of employing solitary confinement techniques, something academic Andrew Azzopardi said was redolent of a ‘Bermuda Triangle’ in prison. Dalli makes the move out of Division 6 into other wings, the “first stage in gaining privileges”! Just imagine... 

Over the summer months, controversy erupted when Dalli accompanied a group of prisoners out for a swim at Kalkara. And here’s what he said: “If I have a group of prisoners who worked all summer to install water and electricity in parts of the prison that did not have these basic amenities for the past 170 years, I would be heartless not to allow them the chance to phone home at a later time than others, or allow them to have an ice cream, or take them for a swim.” 

He doesn’t think this is favouritism, but a fair system of privileges operated in prison for the past four decades. The prison director said his disciplinarian methods were within the parameters of the law. “The law gives the director the right to do what I am doing. As long as the law remains what it is, I will use the power given to me to manage the prison to the best of my ability after consulting with my experts,” he said. 

It is time I guess for Byron Camilleri to sit down and calibrate the calendar, to appreciate that this is 2020 not 1920. That inmates, whether we like it or not, are not convicts we export to Easter Island. If the price for eradicating drugs and rodents from Kordin was only possible by incrementing deaths by natural or unnatural causes, then we really have to question what sort of management style this is.  

Beyond the recriminations of the media, NGOs, and academics, this is a bubble waiting to burst and when it does it will erupt in Camilleri’s face at a time when such human rights abuses are simply unacceptable. Then he will have to face the music as many of his predecessors had to.