Five deaths in prison still under inquiry

In 2020, the Correctional Services Agency carried out 486 urine tests for cocaine, heroin, cannabis, synthetic drugs and ecstasy, with all tests proving negative

The deaths of five inmates at Corradino Correctional Facility are still under magisterial inquiry, the home affairs ministry has told MaltaToday.

Six deaths have occurred at CCF since 2013, but the cause of five of these deaths has yet to be determined.

Between 2013 and 2020, there were 26 prisoners’ deaths: 20 of them occurreed at Mater Dei Hospital or in other care facilities such as Mount Carmel Hospital.

According to a home affairs spokesperson, 16 of these deaths are listed as “natural causes”, whereas five deaths were caused by suicide. The cause of the remaining five deaths are yet to be determined.

Malta’s prison director Alexander Dalli has repeatedly insisted that under a new regime at CCF, the prison has been rendered practically drug-free.

In 2020, the Correctional Services Agency carried out 486 urine tests for cocaine, heroin, cannabis, synthetic drugs and ecstasy, with all tests proving negative, the home affairs ministry said.

In the previous years, there were 26 cases of drug finds inside CCF in 2019, a whopping 85 in 2018, and 62 cases in 2017.

“The Correctional Services Agency would like to point out that severe reduction of drug use in prison is just one of the many initiatives undertaken by the agency. The engagement of more care professionals and having more prisoners in employment are just two of the many other reforms taking place in prison,” the ministry spokesperson said.

The last death in CCF happened earlier this year, when a 72-year-old man – Gozo murderer John Attard, who in 2010 was imprisoned for the killing of traffic warden Fortunata Spiteri in 2001 – had been discovered dead in his cell during morning call on Monday. This was the eighth death in 24 months.

Before that, a 49-year-old prisoner from Birkirkara had been found dead in his cell in November 2019, at 2am in the morning.

The last inmate to be reported dead at the Corradino prison was discovered in November 2019. That death had come just one month after another inmate had also died after he was found unconscious in his cell by prison guards.

In 2018, a male prisoner died in Corradino Correctional Facility shortly after complaining about feeling ill. The man reportedly said he was feeling sick and asked for pills to ease the pain. Just a few minutes later, he become unconscious in his cell, TVM reported.

Correctional officers administered First Aid to the man before calling for an ambulance and rushing him to Mater Dei. However, he was shortly declared dead afterwards.

Three investigations – a magisterial inquiry, a police investigation as well as an internal investigation – were opened in the wake of the man’s death.

That death came barely three weeks after a 26-year-old inmate died in prison – on the very first day of his six-year prison sentence for rape – reportedly committing suicide.

The University of Malta academic and broadcaster Prof. Andrew Azzopardi had launched a scathing criticism of Malta’s correctional facility at Corradino and what he described as its militarisation.

Azzopardi, dean of the Faculty of Social Wellbeing, said the Corradino prison had been turned into the “3rd regiment of the Armed Forces”, in an obvious reference to its prison director, the retired army Lt. Colonel Alex Dalli and his controversial methods of discipline. He claimed the CCF was the site of 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 after someone spoke to the press about the internal situation at CCF.

But Dalli says he has turned the CCF from a chaotic den of criminality into a “disciplined and productive” place of correction in under two years.

The prison director insists his drastic tactics have disrupted an underground economy which he claims is valued at some €2 million a year. Today the Corradino Correctional Facility houses something in the region of 700 inmates. The prison authorities give a cautious estimate of 55% of these inmates being drug addicts upon admission to the facility, which equates to around 385 inmates.

“In the past, family members would sometimes smuggle drugs in food, which led to the need for food parcels to be painstaking dissected by prison staff, along with every package… To enforce discipline, you need to practise discipline. That is why we also embarked on getting our house in order. Those officers who weren’t used to working in such a disciplined environment realised this was no longer the place for them.”

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