The Corradino ‘Hilton’

It is now beyond obvious that those who were making accusations of the Prison Director using draconian methods to control and discipline inmates were right

There was a time when the civil prison at Paola was referred to jokingly as ‘The Corradino Hilton’. Discipline was lax, drugs were normal currency, and gangs ruled the place that was practically out of control.

The appointment of the current prison director, Alex Dalli, changed all that. A retired colonel of the Armed Forces of Malta, Dalli has forced discipline among the prison inmates in no uncertain way.

This is typical of the Maltese way of doing things: ‘Jew nejja jew maħruqa’, says the idiom which roughly translates into: either undone or overdone. No chance for things to be done properly!

Reports of excesses in discipline – even of outright cruelty – in Dalli’s running of the prison have popped up too often in the press. These include allegations of punitive treatment, such as the inappropriate use of solitary confinement, a humiliating punishment involving the use of a chair, and the curtailment of privileges.

Last Sunday afternoon, the prison authorities discovered that another prisoner had attempted to commit suicide. Apart from the usual internal inquiry made by the prison authorities who never publish their findings, the Home Affairs Minsiter, Byron Camilleri, this time set up an inquiry board to evaluate internal procedures at the prison in cases when possible suicide is perceived. This board has 60 days to prepare a set of proposals after it makes a number of studies of the current procedures followed by the prison authorities.

Even so, the terms of reference of the inquiry do not include an investigation into the draconian disciplinary methods that are known to be used at the prisons. They focus on the inmates at risk of suicide, and ignore the need to evaluate comprehensively the current prison system.

One hopes that the final report of the inquiry appointed by the minister is published soon after it is concluded.

The reaction of many to the minister’s decision was: better late than never. In fact, it is a big shame that it took so long for the Minister to take what can only be described as a semblance of a decision.

In the last three years, the current Director presided over twelve deaths of prisoners under his custodial responsibility. Only a month ago a woman prisoner died a day or two in hospital after she was found unconscious in her prison cell after yet another suicide attempt.

Addressing a press conference last Monday, the PN’s shadow minister, Beppe Fenech Adami, insisted that minister Byron Camilleri must shoulder political responsibility for the ‘untenable’ situation he finds himself in. He accused the Minister of having continued to defend the indefensible and now he has no alternative to shouldering responsibility for what was happening in the civil prison. Instead of reforming prison Dalli’s direction led to several inmates having died or tried to end their lives.

The Labour Party’s response to this criticism was as puerile as can be: they simply referred to how bad things were in the past.

In the case of the woman who died a few weeks ago, presenter Peppi Azzopardi accused the prison authorities that they were aware that the inmate wanted to take her life, and yet failed to do anything about it. He alleged that imprisoned drug addicts were forced to stop taking drugs cold turkey and then are locked up in cells for 23 hours with nothing in the room. He said the victim was not given access to a drug rehabilitation programme, and was instead being forced into ruthless incarceration.

This provoked the ministry to ‘explain’ that the victim was awaiting the decision of the Prison Addiction Rehabilitation Management Board regarding an application to start a drug rehabilitation programme.

This answer was hardly satisfactory.

Prof. Andrew Azzopardi, Dean of the Faculty of Social Wellbeing, who had also crossed swords with Dalli after last month’s suicide attempt, now insists that Minister Byron Camilleri must step away from this particular responsibility at least until the findings of the Inquiry are published.

It is now beyond obvious that those who were making accusations of the Prison Director using draconian methods to control and discipline inmates were right. One does not know why the authorities stick to the moniker that was given to the prison: Correctional Facility.

Prison under Alex Dalli is no such thing.

Climate change

A bleak new report which the United Nations calls a “code red for humanity” was published on Monday.

It warns that time is running out to save the planet as climate change is accelerating and intensifying.

“Unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to 1.5°C will be beyond reach,” scientist Valérie Masson-Delmotte told reporters as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its report on Monday.

Greenhouse gas emissions are not just carbon dioxide, as perceived by the immediate reaction of many. They include methane and it is about time that humanity takes a look at methane emissions as well.

Shrinking ice and heatwaves, droughts, floods and storms are already visible impacts of climate change. All of these trends will get worse, the report predicts.

Several major heatwaves over the summer have led to large wildfires, including the ones that continue to spread in southern Europe.

Last Tuesday’s Times was the only Maltese news medium to take a local perspective of all this by seeking the opinion of the Maltese Climate Change Ambassador, Simone Borg.

How will climate change affect Malta? Simone Borg said: “If the climate continues on the current route, Malta will become a desert and maintaining agricultural activity will become very difficult and costly.” According to her, we would also have to spend more on energy for cooling and the tourism sector will also face an upheaval – with tourists probably refraining from coming here during the hot dry summer and opting for the cooler months.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose country will host the next global climate conference in Glasgow in just a few months’ time, put it this way: “We know what must be done to limit global warming – consign coal to history and shift to clean energy sources, protect nature and provide climate finance for countries on the frontline.”

It’s not just coal of course: all fossil fuels must be ‘consigned to history’.

This is proving to be easier said than done. Will this dreary and dismal report push politicians into action?