Home Affairs Ministry does not say whether it will open independent inquiry into prison inmate’s death

The Home Affairs Ministry keeps mum when asked whether independent inquiry will be held into prison inmate's death • Opposition lashes out at failed prison system that strips inmates of dignity and leads to death

The Corradino Correctional Facility in Paola is being run with an iron fist that some believe is causing psychological harm among inmates
The Corradino Correctional Facility in Paola is being run with an iron fist that some believe is causing psychological harm among inmates

The Home Affairs Ministry will not commit to an independent inquiry into the death of a female prison inmate who passed away at hospital, three weeks after attempting suicide.

The woman died on Sunday at Mater Dei Hospital after  attempting suicide last June.

In reply to questions sent by MaltaToday, a ministry spokesperson “categorically” denied the individual was being kept in solitary confinement in prison when she attempted suicide.

However, the spokesperson did not answer when asked whether the ministry will hold an independent inquiry into the death.

The woman was imprisoned for admitting to six counts of fraud and theft last February, having also had suspended sentences extended for another four years.

According to the ministry spokesperson, the individual met with the Correctional Services Agency’s professionals so as to map out her care plan. “This is a procedure followed for every new admission in the facility,” she said.

“Since the individual was highly dependent on drugs, as can be verified through the judgment delivered by the court, regular meetings with medical doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists were held,” the spokesperson said. “A care plan was prepared so as to help the person’s dependency on methadone decrease gradually.”

She said that following consultations with the psychiatrist the deceased inmate’s dependency on drugs decreased gradually.

“It must be noted that the individual was awaiting the decision of an independent board, namely the Prison Addiction Rehabilitation Management Board (PARMB), regarding an application to start a drug rehabilitation programme,” she added.

Xarabank presenter Peppi Azzopari lashed out at prison authorities on Monday, following the news of her death, saying imprisoned drug addicts are forced to stop taking drugs cold turkey, and placed in cells for up to 23 hours a day.

He said the victim was not given access to a drug rehabilitation programme, and was forced into “ruthless incarceration”.

Despite attempting suicide last June, the ministry spokesperson said that “just days” before her attempt, “the individual did not have any suicidal thoughts at the time”.

“In fact, the last meeting with the psychiatrist was held just days before the incident and it was made clear that the person in question was registering significant progress in this regard,” she said.

The incident has once again raised serious concerns on the state of the Corradino Correctional Facility, which has the highest suicide rate in Europe.

Including the latest incident, there are now six ongoing magisterial inquiries into inmate deaths. These inquiries are distinct from any independent inquiry the ministry can hold to determine the circumstances of incarceration and whether the authorities could have done more to prevent the suicide attempt.

Between 2013 and 2020, there were 26 prisoner deaths: 20 of them occurred at Mater Dei Hospital or in other care facilities such as Mount Carmel Hospital. Six of these deaths occurred inside the prison.

 The government says 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.

Prison system cannot be trusted - Beppe Fenech Adami

Opposition spokesperson Beppe Fenech Adami lashed out at the prison system, blaming the draconian leadership for the inmate's death. "Once again, we have a family suffering because of their daughter's death, because Robert Abela's government keeps on insisting that in prison everything is running smoothly and there are no problems... the prison system today cannot be trusted," Fenech Adami said.

He said the government continues to refuse to understand that the manner by which the prison is being run is leading to one death after another and no one is shouldering responsibility for this.

"The prison is a national scandal, where the lives of people are worthless. Prisoners have become simple numbers with no dignity," Fenech Adami said, calling on the Prime Minister to intervene and ensure the situation in prison is addressed.

He called for the removal of the current prison director.