Prisons: Alex Dalli must be removed from Corradino | Annalise Ebejer

We can no longer pretend prisoners’ welfare only affects inmates. This is a pressing issue betraying the government’s failure to support citizens worthy of dignity and respect, regardless of their imprisonment

CCF director Alex Dalli (right) at Corradino prison
CCF director Alex Dalli (right) at Corradino prison

It is about time that we re-imagine what prisons can do and what they stand for. Prisons should be an opportunity for rehabilitation, where prisoners can heal and be provided with education, so they have a better chance at life once leaving prison.

It may sound Utopian, but many Scandinavian countries have successfully transformed their prisons to rehabilitation centres. Malta’s prison conditions have been described as “hellish”, and “nightmarish”, whereas Scandinavian prisons are more like a home, with an emphasis on treating prisoners with respect and dignity. Yet it’s the latter countries that enjoy low rates of recidivism, while Malta’s rate sits at 70%. To compare, the world average is 50%.

This is the vision that Movement Graffitti continuously strives for: “to achieve a holistic reform of the penitentiary system into one that supports rehabilitation”.

Malta’s correctional facilities are far from said vision. There is a lack of basic sanitary facilities, so some inmates are forced to urinate in a bag or small hole in the ground which can be blocked by other inmates due to small cell space. Most cells don’t have fans, even with record high temperatures in Malta. In short, cells are overcrowded, grey and airless.

Additionally, the prison is ruled over with an iron fist by prison director Alexander Dalli, whose tenure has seen record numbers of deaths and suicide attempts. The Council of Europe statistics outline that Maltese prisons had the highest suicide rates on the continent in 2019 and 2020.

Under Dalli, solitary confinement has become widely used even for small mistakes. Allegedly, a restrictive chair has been introduced to humiliate prisoners and dehumanise them, sometimes tying them up naked for hours. The pandemic is even being used as an excuse to stop all education programmes with no indication of when they will be reinstated.

Who would have thought that just around the corner of a popular shopping mall, such atrocities would be taking place so close to the rest of Maltese society?

Why should we care, anyway?

We should care because Malta’s prisons are in breach of human rights: the right to adequate food, water, shelter and the space to spend time with loved ones whilst serving sentences. Most of the time, these rights are nowhere close to being prioritised.

There is also the financial aspect. Taxpayers’ money is indirectly funding brutality instead of ensuring that recidivism rates go down with a good rehabilitation plan.

Human rights are fundamental to a free and democratic country. This is why Movement Graffitti formed a working group, earlier this year, that focuses on prison issues. Through the prison hotline, they offer support for those affected by the prison system and work closely with inmates’ families and ex-inmates. They are being aided by Andrew Azzopardi, Dean of the Faculty for Social Wellbeing, and journalist Peppi Azzopardi. Thanks to this collaboration, and another with KSU, issues on prisons are being highlighted in the media and debated in public.

Somehow, despite these stories, including the tragic suicides of Kim Borg and Colin Galea in the past two months, the government still refuses to hold Dalli accountable.

Dalli is still supported by the Minister for Home Affairs, Byron Camilleri, and there have even been instances where both him and Prime Minister Robert Abela, have publicly defended him.

They are defending a man who has reportedly threatened inmates with guns to their heads.

Currently, there is an inquiry being carried out by the government to assess the mental health of inmates at Corradino Correctional Facility, mainly suicide prevention measures. However, the board has asked for an extension of two further months. Additionally, a case of involuntary homicide concerning Kim Borg’s suicide has been opened.

Moviment Graffitti will monitor the situation and publicise any relevant findings on social media. Furthermore, we are working to publish this research, which has caught the eyes of prominent organisations, such as the United Nations and the Council of Europe. The long-term aim is to obtain findings on the current prison state and implement ways to minimise damage and focus on rehabilitation.

The short-term, more important goal, is to remove Dalli from any position of influence at Corradino.

People can help support this movement by attending en masse any direct action and press conferences to put pressure on the government to reform the prison immediately. Moreover, the public is encouraged to share any material that Moviment Graffitti has, especially that opposing Dalli’s administration and his supporters.

We can no longer pretend this is an issue that affects only inmates. This is a pressing issue that shows the government’s failure to support citizens who are worthy of dignity and respect regardless of their imprisonment.

Especially, when keeping in mind that it is primarily the working-class, the poor and the immigrants who are the most affected by the prison system, who have already been failed by society’s ineptness to provide them the right environment to throve in. This reflects badly on us as a country, particularly if we continue to allow this horror to unfold in front of us.

Annalise Ebejer is a Moviment Graffitti activist