Faculty for Social Wellbeing dean calls for end to solitary confinement in Malta’s prison

A position paper issued by the Office of the Dean of the Faculty for Social Wellbeing argues solitary confinement leads to worsening rates of recidivism

The Office of the Dean of the Faculty for Social Wellbeing at the University of Malta has issued a position paper calling for the end to solitary confinement in the country.

“The practice of Solitary Confinement has been shown, through multiple empirical research publications, to be detrimental to prisoners’ wellbeing, resulting in negative effects on their physical, psychological and social health, as well as worsening rates of recidivism,” the document reads.

The authors of the document have called for a reform concerning the amendment of legal provisions that are currently stipulated in Chapter 9 of the Criminal Code of Malta.

The amendments allow for solitary confinement to be handed down as part of a prison sentence. Solitary confinement handed down by the courts is not allowed to exceed 10 continuous days.   

“It is suggested that the primary aim of such overhaul would be to remove clauses which allow for Solitary Confinement to be used as a punishment as part of court sentences at their discretion,” the paper reads.

The law also allows for the prison director to place prisoners in solitary confinement should he or she find them guilty of “an offence against discipline”. In this case, a prisoner cannot be placed into cellular confinement for a period exceeding thirty days.

In cases where a prisoner suffers from mental health issues and is deemed to require solitary confinement, due to posing a threat to their own safety or that of others around them, the paper recommended provisions within the Mental Health Act are used.

“This would consist of using restrictive care, with all the relevant safeguards and procedures strictly enforced and duly documented. Assigning priority to the Mental Health Act, instead of the Prison Regulations, would effectively necessitate that the decision to place a prisoner under restrictive care ceases to be enforced under the discretion of the Prison Director,” the paper read.

This would require the necessary monitoring and guidance to be carried out by psychology professionals, to ensure the concerned individual’s safety. Correctional Services Agency employees should also receive adequate training, the paper recommended, to ensure that they are well-equipped in methods for dealing with prisoners in a manner that is both humane and adequate.

“The recommended re-evaluation of current practices relating to Solitary Confinement would also entail a thorough review of all associated guidelines, including but not limited to the Criminal Code, the Prison Regulations, and the CCF Inmates Handbook,” the paper read.

The position paper also called for the social wellbeing faculty to be engaged directly with other relevant entities, in order to propose appropriate alternatives to solitary confinement through a collaborative approach, based on empirical research.

The paper’s authors said they are in full support of respecting victims of crime, and that the data and proposals being put forth are not seeking to detract from such individuals’ right to justice. “Notwithstanding this right, it should be considered that the State has a duty to reflect on the progress of its criminal justice practices, and to deliver a punishment that is just and proportionate.”

Faculty Dean Andrew Azzopardi has been quite vocal against the use of solitary confinement in Malta’s prisons over the last two years, calling for a parliamentary debate in the House of Representatives on the issue in 2019.

He had argued locking prisoners up in solitary confinement for hours will not make Malta any safer, but rather makes inmates more vengeful.

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