[WATCH] Home Affairs Minister sees creation of two prisons with different security levels

XtraSajf on TVM | Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri insists decision to retain the prison director is based on facts not sensationalism • Opposition reiterates call for Alex Dalli’s removal

Splitting the prison into two facilities with differing security levels could be the next step in a reform of Malta’s prison system, Byron Camilleri has said.

The Home Affairs Minister said Malta always had one prison for everyone that made no distinction between hardened criminals and other inmates.

“We should consider having a low-security prison and a high-security prison and the decision on where an inmate will reside should not depend on the crime alone but also on the willingness of a person to reform,” Camilleri said when interviewed on Xtra Sajf.

The low-security prison could have a more social outlook, while respecting security norms, he added.

Camilleri said the split prison system would work in tandem with electronic tagging for certain minor crimes, which would help reduce the prison population.

He said electronic tagging would allow the individual to serve time at home while being able to continue working or studying. Government has put forward a proposal on the matter.

Camilleri added that another change he would like to see is empowering the prisons monitoring board in such a way to make its decisions enforceable.

“The prisons monitoring board is appointed by the President and investigates complaints. But so far, its reports are simply passed on to the minister,” he said.

Defence of prison director

The state of affairs at the Corradino Correctional Facility has come under renewed scrutiny after two inmates attempted suicide within a span of weeks and later died in hospital. The second death prompted the government to set up an independent inquiry.

There have been calls for the removal of prison director Alex Dalli, a retired military colonel, who has come under fire for his disciplinarian approach, which some blame for the high number of suicide deaths in prison.

But Camilleri defended Dalli, insisting he based his decisions on facts. “As a minister, I make decisions based on facts not sensationalism and I have had numerous situations where criticism was based on sensationalism. Until now there was not one magisterial inquiry that placed the onus of responsibility for deaths at the Corradino Correctional Facility on prison officials,” Camilleri said.

He insisted that under Dalli’s leadership the prison authorities regained control and introduced discipline.

“We started from a situation of total disorder… we had a prison full of drugs, a few tough prisoners running the show and treating their fellow inmates with no dignity… today we have more control and discipline,” the minister said. He added that the government has invested heavily in equipment, a new medical centre and recruited professionals in the medical, psychological and social fields to help inmates in their rehabilitation process.

“We are not perfect and when I meet NGOs they tell me that there is still more to improve but they also warn us not to go back to the disorder of the past. Rehabilitation must not start from disorder,” Camilleri said.

He added that he was the first home affairs minister to set up an inquiry board to evaluate the administrative practices in prison and the treatment afforded to inmates, including suicide watch procedures.

Camilleri dismissed criticism from the Opposition, insisting it was not genuine because when in government they allowed the situation to deteriorate.

Dalli must go – Fenech Adami

But Nationalist Party spokesperson Beppe Fenech Adami refuted the minister’s criticism. “We were not perfect but we are genuine in our proposals today. This country has embraced a school of thought that champions punishment in prison. Today we have a situation where cells that are 3m by 3m hold three, four or six people. With these conditions, it is not surprising that we have suicides,” he said.

Fenech Adami said the Opposition did not agree with the school of thought adopted by the prison director that instils fear and antagonises prisoners and warders.

“A director like him can never fit in a changed system and this is why he should be removed. I want to believe that Byron Camilleri does not agree with what is happening in prison but he does not have the gravitas to stand up to the director and so he has to leave as well,” Fenech Adami said.

Academic Andrew Azzopardi called for a more humane prison that does not create victims but helps prepare inmates for reintegration in society.

Azzopardi and media personality Peppi Azzopardi recently presented a list of 100 proposals to change the prison into what they describe as a caring and loving institution that fosters rehabilitation instead of retribution.

Andrew Azzopardi said the proposals were based on what has been happening abroad to foster reintegration.

“What is important is that the current director cannot implement the change that is necessary…he is not fit for purpose. It requires a team from the social sphere not military personnel to bring about change… a leadership team that cherishes the values of solidarity and humanity that ensure people leave prison in a better state,” he said.

During the programme, prison doctor Chris Cremona said prisoners are medically screened upon entry and followed up throughout their stay.

He noted that doctors saw an average of 50 inmates every day as part of regular medical treatment and follow-ups.