[WATCH] Prison costs soar with 443 jailed over false passports in two years as government considers expansion

Over two years, 443 individuals have been imprisoned over passport-related illegalities • Byron Camilleri says government considering expanding prison to address overpopulation

The Corradino Correctional Facility is overcrowded
The Corradino Correctional Facility is overcrowded

Updated at 4:08pm with Home Affairs Minister video comment

Malta’s correctional budget is being strained by an unprecedented rise in incarcerated men and women who are apprehended leaving Malta on false identification and passports. 

Sources told this newspaper the rise in illegal departures is having a concomitant effect on Malta’s rising prison population, as the Maltese courts must sentence guilty parties to months on end at times.

An exercise in tracing the number of people found guilty of these offences shows many are originally from African states trying to move further north into the European mainland.  

443 individuals were sentenced and imprisoned in connection with immigration issues in the last two years.

The charges varied from possession of false documents, failing to produce passports and giving information to the Principal Immigration Officers, and transfer of passports. 

In 2019 alone, 116 individuals were incarcerated, but the number shot up to 327 in 2020.  

The age of the prisoners ranged from 15 to 47 years. 

Sudanese nationals topped the list as being the country from where the highest number of offenders hailed from at 212. Other offenders hailing from the Ivory Coast were the second most common, with 30 individuals sentenced over passport illegalities, followed by Eritrea (29), Chad (19), Morocco (19), Mali (15) and Albania (13).  Incarcerated individuals also hailed from Iraq, Georgia, Nepal and Serbia among others. 

262 individuals were handed a six-month prison sentence for their offences, while 10 people were handed a two-year sentence.  

According to Chapter 258 of the Laws of Malta, any person who gives false information, produces any false document or forges an identity document shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for a period of not less than two years and not exceeding five years. 

Last December, the Magistrate Joe Mifsud voiced his concern over the number of people serving sentences related to passport offences.  

The magistrate was presiding the arraignment of Azekrou Radwane, 27, from Casablanca, who was sentenced to six months imprisonment. Mifsud observed that there was a “dire need” for a European and International mechanism for dealing with such cases. He noted that a quarter to a third of the current prison population was currently made up of passport offenders. 

He said that should the trend continue, the country would need to build new facilities to house such offenders. 

Expansion of prison on the table - Home Affairs Minister

Government is looking at the possibility of expanding the Corradino Correctional Facility to address the issue of overpopulation, Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri said on Monday.

He acknowledged that the high number of incarcerations related to passport and immigration offences may be straining the prison administration.

“While protecting the interests of the nearby residents, we are looking at the possibility of expanding the prison facilities,” he told MaltaToday.

The minister once again denied claims that a punishment chair is being used on inmates at the Corradino Correctional Facility. “There are only restraint mechanisms allowed by law inside the facility,” he said.

Camilleri was also asked whether the inclusion of military ranks for prison officials was in line with ministerial policy. He said that the prison administration was told to include “correctional officer” in all posts.