NGOs’ coalition demands radical reform at prison, call for ombudsman

Wide cross-section of civil society and NGOs condemn culture of punishment that has seen 13 deaths at Corradino Correctional Facility

A prison van transporting inmates to the Corradino Correctional Facility (File photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
A prison van transporting inmates to the Corradino Correctional Facility (File photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

A wide cross-section of civil society and NGOs have condemned what they called the “ongoing uncertainty” at the Corradino prisons, following the death of Colin Galea, 30, eight days after his attempted suicide while incarcerated.

NGOs such as Aditus, the anti-poverty forum, the national youth council KNZ, gay rights movement MGRM, and Moviment Graffitti, called for a long-term and deep-rooted review of current practices, and a radical reform to a culture of punishment, retribution and disparagement inside the Maltese prisons under the present leadership of Lt. Col. Alexander Dalli.

They also called for the institution of an Ombudsman for Prison and Probation.

The number of deaths registered at Corradino in these last years has climbed to 13 individuals, including the recent deaths by suicide of a 30-year-old man and a 29-year-old woman. Data from the Council of Europe confirm that the suicide rate at CCF ranks amongst the highest in Europe - second after Iceland, which itself has a population of less than 500,000.

“This fact, combined with dubious operational methods more distinctive of a long-gone archaic prison model, is extremely concerning. One needs to keep in mind that the corrections phase is an essential one in the continuum of services within the criminal justice system. When this fails, it puts the whole system at risk and causes significant collateral damage,” the NGOs said.

University dean Prof. Andrew Azzopardi, who has been a standard bearer for prison reform, said the NGOs were troubled by the lack of transparency on these deaths. “In most cases, inquiry outcomes were not made public. This lack of access has hampered the ability of academics, policy makers and professionals to provide insight and substantive recommendations that help improve sub-standard services within the facility. It also prejudices the ability of inmates’ family members to achieve closure following their bereavement.”

And with no comment from home affairs minister Byron Camilleri since the death of Colin Galea, the NGOs remarked on the inadequate reaction being provided by state authorities in response to this crisis. “It took yet another suicide for an inquiry on current operative procedures to be commissioned.”

The NGOs also said they were troubled by the long-delayed actions to bring about the necessary reforms for a modern and effective corrections model. “We recommend that efforts are made to monitor existing conditions of confinement, re-think the use of solitary confinement, while also developing substantive mechanisms to recommend best practices as related to the health, safety, welfare, and the rehabilitation of inmates.

“We believe that rehabilitation in Malta’s correctional system must be a process founded on family and community support. Therefore, there should be actionable care plans for families of inmates.”

The NGOs signing the statement are: Aditius, Alleanza Kontra l-Faqar, Doctors for Choice Malta, Drachma LGBTI and Drachma Parents Group, Hearing Voices Malta, Integra Foundation, JRS, KNŻ - Kunsill Nazzjonali taż-Żgħażagħ, Kopin, Kummissjoni Gustizzja u Paci, Kunsill Studenti Universitarji (KSU), LGBTI+ Gozo,, Malta Association for the Counselling Profession (MACP), Malta Association of Social Workers (MASW) Malta Dementia Society Men Against Violence MGRM Migrant Women Association Malta Millenium Chapel Moviment Graffiti National Parents Society of Persons with Disability (NPSPD), Oasi Foundation, Occupy Justice, Office of the Dean of Education, Office of the Dean for Social Wellbeing, Peace and Good Foundation, Repubblika, Richmond Foundation, SĦS - Studenti Ħarsien Soċjali,Social Assistance Secretariat (Azzjoni Kattolika Maltija), SOS Malta, St Jeanne Antide Foundation, The Anti-Poverty Forum Malta (a Forum of 17 NGOs), The Critical Institute, The Safeguarding Commission, Women for Women Foundation, Women’s Rights Foundation.