Updated | Another suicide attempt in prison forces ministry to hold inquiry • Doubts cast on board's independence

A 30-year-old Maltese prison inmate is being treated at hospital after an attempted suicide • Home Affairs Ministry sets up inquiry board led by psychiatrist Anton Grech

The suicide attempt on Sunday is the second such case since June
The suicide attempt on Sunday is the second such case since June

Updated on Monday at 10:15am with inquiry board members and Opposition reaction

A board led by psychiatrist Anton Grech has been tasked with reviewing suicide prevention measures at the prison after another inmate attempted suicide on Sunday.

The board’s remit includes an evaluation of the procedures used in prison to assess the mental and physical health of inmates, and support measures for drug dependents. 

The board set up by Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri includes academic Janice Formosa Pace and medical doctor George Grech as members.

In its statement on Monday morning, the ministry said that Formosa Pace has resigned from the Corradino Correctional Facility’s board of governors to serve on the inquiry board.

However, the composition of the board has cast doubts on its independence since all three members are or were involved in the prison system.

Anton Grech had served on the prison visitor’s board, while George Grech is listed on the Home Affairs website as chairperson of the Prison Addiction Rehabilitation Board. Formosa Pace is also listed as a member of the Prison Leave Advisory Board and it is unclear whether she has resigned from this post as well.

Opposition spokesperson Beppe Fenech Adami called out the appointment of Formosa Pace on the inquiry board, insisting she had a conflict of interest having been part of the board of governors.

The inquiry has 60 days to deliver its recommendations to the minister.

The board’s composition and terms of reference were announced on Monday morning, less than 24 hours after a Maltese inmate attempted suicide.

On Sunday,  the Correctional Services Agency said a 30-year-old Maltese prison inmate had to be taken to Mater Dei Hospital for treatment after attempting suicide. The agency said in a statement that the man was “found inside his cell after an attempted suicide” at 5:05pm on Sunday.

He was given initial treatment by the prison medical staff and then transported to the hospital.

The agency said that the police were informed of the incident and a magisterial inquiry is being conducted by Magistrate Doreen Clarke.

Just 20 minutes after the agency’s statement, the Home Affairs Ministry announced it will be setting up an independent board under the Inquiries Act to evaluate the internal procedures adopted by the Corradino Correctional Facility.

Sunday’s suicide attempt is the second this year. In June, 29-year-old Kim Borg attempted suicide and died three weeks later in hospital.

The CCF administration has been under pressure over the past few years as a result of the number of deaths among inmates and the iron fist adopted by prison director Alex Dalli, a former military colonel.

Dalli has been in charge since 2018 and came under pressure for his disciplinarian methods with the Opposition even calling for his removal.

Since June 2018 there have been 12 deaths in prison. Only five of the magisterial inquiries have been concluded and of these five, four were deemed to be natural deaths from heart complications and one was a suicide.

Four of the pending inquiries concern cases suspected to be suicide.

Inquiry board’s terms of reference

1. Evaluate the Correctional Services Agency's procedures when it comes to assessing the mental and physical health of inmates upon admission to prison. The board is expected to analyse the procedures adopted by the agency when a new inmate enters the facility.

2. Evaluate the procedures implemented to assess inmates' wellbeing throughout their stay in prison.

3. Evaluate the procedures implemented by the agency when someone returns to prison after being discharged from Mount Carmel Hospital, and the procedures in place that ensure continuous assessment of inmates. 

4. Evaluate the procedures, policies and regulations followed by the agency when it comes to the rehabilitation of inmates, including the support provided to prisoners who suffer from addiction.

5. Evaluate measures for suicide prevention in prison.

Inquiry should investigate director's cruel methods - Moviment Graffitti

Activist NGO Moviment Graffitti stated on Monday that the terms of reference should include an investigation into "the cruel methods known to be used within the facility", especially under Dalli's watch.

“Evidence of Dalli’s working methods that has made it out of the prison’s thick walls over the last years points to an obsession with discipline over compassion, and ceremony over the pragmatic needs of rehabilitation,” the group said.

Moviment Graffitti added that the findings of the inquiry board should be made public, and the exercise should not be used to justify any wrongdoings or to propose weak recommendations.

READ ALSO: Only five magisterial inquiries on 12 prison deaths since 2018 concluded