[WATCH] Prisons chief wants tighter control on prisoner charities

Retired army colonel Alexander Dalli was involved in countless rescue operations as a soldier. Today, he fancies his current job as a mission ‘to save prisoners’ even if his disciplinarian methods inside prison have raised eyebrows

Controversial: Alex Dalli, a former military colonel, 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 is pictured here with Prime Minister Robert Abela (left)
Controversial: Alex Dalli, a former military colonel, 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 is pictured here with Prime Minister Robert Abela (left)
Prisons chief wants tighter control on prisoner charities

Prisoner charities have had their work curbed by the prison authorities for “security reasons”, Corradino Correctional Facility chief Alexander Dalli said.

Tighter controls were necessary, he said without elaborating, when asked the reason for his decision to change the way prisoners meet with the various NGOs that offer welfare service.

Dalli 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 as he defended his disciplinarian approach since being appointed director three years ago.

A former military colonel, Dalli 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”.

“I took control back… and the first stage of any prisoner’s reform is regaining discipline,” he said.

Dalli, whose army past included a long service as a pilot in the search and rescue wing, fancies his current mission as a rescue operation to save prisoners and help them reform.

But he denied his strict approach was an affront to human dignity, insisting the prison was today drug-free.

“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 said.

Dalli’s methods include a strict regime for prisoners to maintain cleanliness and good personal hygiene. “Every morning I expect that a person does his bed and cleans his cell. They have to cut their hair, keep themselves clean and shave regularly,” he said.

A swimming trip and privileges

Drugs and fighting were two other no-go areas for him and prisoners who fail to adhere to prison policies will have to suffer the consequences for their actions. “For every misbehaviour, there is a repercussion and in prison this translates into a loss of privileges that are gained by time,” Dalli insisted.

He defended 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 is accused of employing solitary confinement techniques, something academic Prof. 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”.

He remained unfazed when asked about the favouritism he shows within the prison walls by allowing some inmates more privileges than the rest. Over the summer months, controversy erupted when Dalli accompanied a group of prisoners out for a swim at Kalkara.

“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,” Dalli said, adding this was not favouritism but a fair system of privileges operated in prison for the past four decades.

Overcrowded prison

He acknowledged that the prison had a problem of overcrowding, having seen the population balloon from 560 when he started off three years ago, to almost 800 inmates today.

“It is no secret that the prison is small for the current population. I cannot increase the facility’s capacity and so have to work within the existing constraints,” Dalli said, stopping short of calling for a new facility or an expansion.

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.

His team of experts includes a group of professionals with no background in disciplinary corps. He said every inmate who steps into prison for the first time is given a care plan to enable him to regain discipline and reform.

“I employed 23 professionals as part of a care and re-integration team that includes psychologists, doctors and social workers so that every inmate has a care plan the moment he steps inside the prison,” Dalli said.

He prides himself in talking to all inmates. “They share their problems with me, even after they successfully leave prison, and where I can help, I do my best… The problems flagged by inmates are not linked to rules on cleanliness, or my style of discipline but the media and how it writes about them,” Dalli insisted.

However, he is reluctant to talk about the 11 deaths linked to prison over the past three years, insisting that some were natural deaths, and a majority were not drug-related.

“There are inquiries that are still underway, some inquiries have concluded and if there are any changes indicated we will adapt accordingly,” he said, without elaborating.

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