Crime, poverty, recidivism and restorative justice | Joseph Borg

Studies in family research confirm that crime tends to be concentrated in families, as what is frequently known intergenerational crime. In this case children of incarcerated parents tend to end up incarcerated themselves

In June 2017 when the Prime Minister announced his new cabinet and appointed Michael Farrugia as Minister for Home Affairs and National Security the situation as it stood was unconventional.

Minister Farrugia by profession is a family doctor where he has served as the Minister for Health, Elderly Care and Family Affairs (1996-1998), Parliamentary Secretary for Planning and Simplification of Administrative Processes (2013-2014) and Minister for Family and Social Solidarity (2014-2017). Therefore, too many people, including myself, associate the Minister with the social welfare sector. Minister Farrugia’s background and expertise in social welfare is a blessing for the much needed and overdue prison reform.

In his recent visits to the prison and on other occasions he emphasised he is planning to reform the prison “management” system and the “inmates’ rehabilitation” system. The fact that the two planned reforms will be separate from each other is a very good sign. Although the security and management of the prison is important, it is high time for a holistic approach in the rehabilitation of inmates with the focus mainly on reducing recidivism and intergenerational crime prevalence.                 

Crime and poverty   

Victims of crime and the immediate family of perpetrators of crime suffer from psychosocial problems which normally lead to difficulties in gainful employment. Therefore such people experience a lack of financial resources which, in some cases, leads to poverty. Scientific research provides information on the traits of victims of crime, who tend to have trouble with concentration or memory, usually have reduced performance at work or school, withdraw from others and society, and feel like they have lost control. In later stages, some people can experience depression or anxiety.

On the other hand, families of the perpetrators suffer many psychosocial issues that prevail as hardships for the spouses and children of inmates following incarceration. These include family breakups, emotional and mental health issues, social stigma, education factors and financial drawbacks. More worrying is that the studies in family research confirm that crime tends to be concentrated in families, as what is frequently known intergenerational crime. In this case children of incarcerated parents tend to end up incarcerated themselves.

Recidivism and rehabilitation

Malta’s recidivism rate is 66%, one of the highest rates in the world. However what is of much more concern is that 72% of our prison population are coming from intergenerational crime families. Although the figures of recidivism in Malta are shocking, especially when compared to Scandinavian countries which average around 25%, these findings are not surprising. Too little has been done to rehabilitate inmates. The philosophy of rehabilitation and correction within our prisons was included in the reforms launched in 1995. Unfortunately, the much-anticipated reform ended up in a change of name of the prison but the punitive system was kept instead of a reformative and rehabilitative system. The prison which until the reform was known as Corradino Prison, changed its name to Corradino Correctional Facility (CCF) but the rest left a lot to be desired.

In 2012, the Restorative Justice Act was passed through parliament; however, despite the law being enacted much of the system that was meant to facilitate the enactment of the act was not and is still not functioning. Despite recent efforts, categorisation of inmates is still non-existent, there is a lack of adequate care-plans and a limited amount of or no rehabilitative programmes aimed to address the goals and needs identified in the care-plan.

Earned privilege system

In the reform being proposed, the prison will have a Reception Unit and a Main Prison with specified divisions for High Risk and Medium Risk inmates. Moreover, there will be Therapeutic Units for Low Risk inmates. Every new inmate will be admitted through the Reception Unit; the respective inmate will be informed of the prison regulations and will be assessed by a number of different professionals. The assessment process will be divided into three parts. Initial categorisation, classification and medical assessment. The second part of the assessment shall consist of a detailed psychological, social and educational assessment; this part is to be carried out within a maximum of 20 days.

After this initial reception period a Multidisciplinary team (MDT) meeting shall take place to discuss the security and privilege level that the inmate shall be placed in and identify the needs that the inmate would need to address during his incarceration. This plan will serve as the care-plan with specific timeframes, whose main aim will be the reduction of offending behaviour as well as other needs the inmate might have.      

Following the reception phase inmates shall be transferred to the mainstream divisions. Here they will be expected to partake in different programmes that are aimed at reducing their risk level and address their offending needs. For example, if identified in the care-plan they would be required to attend basic cognitive skills programmes or basic educational programmes.

Correctional officers involved in the monitoring and supervision of the inmates and professionals involved in the delivery of the programmes shall keep updated records of the inmates’ progress. MDTs shall then discuss this progress or regress which could lead to an inmate’s re-categorisation of risk and privilege level.

Therapeutic units

After sufficient progress or categorisation as low risk by the MDT, inmates shall be eligible to be transferred to the Therapeutic Units within CCF. These units would be guided through the principles of restorative justice. It is proposed that these units would offer more advanced programmes, incentives and opportunities that would encourage the offenders to further rehabilitate themselves and seek re-integration within society.

These programmes and incentives would not be typically available to the mainstream inmate in prison i.e. those classed as medium or high risk. For example, the inmate might be able to benefit from a study programme in a local institution out of prison or might be given the opportunity to work full-time while still serving his sentence.

Although inmates at present might be able to benefit from Prison Leave for Education to attend courses at local institutions, this occurs on an ad hoc basis which might leave some inmates feeling discriminated against and might increase the perception of a lack of transparency. Thus, in these units, like the Danish models, offenders would benefit from greater levels of privileges aimed at making this period of detention more “normalised” and approximating the community where he/she would eventually be released.

Joseph Borg is a clinical psychologist

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