Alarming rise in prison suicides, unexplained deaths, signal inhumane treatment of inmates

Malta’s correctional services agency has been called out repeatedly on human rights abuses over the last eight years


Last week, we learned that yet another prisoner under the care of Malta’s correctional services agency, formerly known as Corradino correctional facility, has taken her own life.

The 29-year-old who killed herself on 4 July had already attempted to commit suicide in June. This makes her the 26th person to have died either within the prison’s walls or while receiving care in hospital in the past eight years, according to Malta Today.

In spite of the victim’s documented history with addiction issues, prison reform activist Peppi Azzopardi has repeatedly stated that the latest victim, as well as other prisoners, are forced to quit drugs cold turkey in order to achieve prison director Colonel Alex Dalli’s goal of “eradicating” drug use within the prison’s walls.

This is an accusation that the correctional services agency (CSA) has denied, arguing that the latest suicide victim had been seen by a psychiatrist who flagged no instances of suicidal tendencies and that she had been waiting for a spot in a drug rehabilitation programme.

While the circumstances surrounding this latest victim of a system that prides itself on “teaching fear” and punishing its inmates are not yet known, the home affairs ministry and the office of the attorney general have rejected freedom of information requests and dodged questions about the results of magisterial inquiries that were launched to investigate deaths in prison.

The government has also failed to acknowledge the severity of the situation in the prison, with journalists allowed only on strictly controlled guided tours, while scant information around inquiries and prison deaths is released and home affairs minister Byron Camilleri repeatedly defends Dalli’s record as director.

Prime Minister Robert Abela was asked on Wednesday whether he has faith in the prison administration following yet another suicide on their watch. “I have faith in Colonel Dalli and the prison administration’s leadership. I also have faith in the magistrate that is leading the inquiry and we will wait for a report on the matter,” he replied.

The number of deaths in Malta’s prison puts the island at the top of EU charts on all the wrong counts: according to the Council of Europe’s annual penal statistics, Malta has the highest rate of prison suicides per capita, along with the fastest rate of increase in incarceration over the course of 2019.

These are just two of the most concerning aspects of CSA’s prison. Former prisoners have blown the lid off the tightly monitored conditions within the agency’s facility, and have flagged human rights violations such as being denied adequate, edible food and enough space to rest comfortably.

Even more serious accusations, backed up by testimonies and several news reports, have featured repeated mentions of torture in the form of regular, arbitrary solitary confinement as well as the use of a restrictive chair as a form of punishment.

Tonight, Moviment Graffitti and Kunsill Studenti Universitarji (KSU) will be hosting a panel discussion about conditions in the prison that will be live-streamed on the Facebook pages of each organisation.

The Shift News journalist and Moviment Graffitti activist Julian Delia will be hosting the discussion, featuring journalist and prison reform activist Peppi Azzopardi, ex-prisoner David Grech, forensic psychologist Roberta Holland, criminology academic Mary Grace Vella and RISe Foundation president Charles Mifsud.

Further details about the event can be found here.


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Mac Taylor
Mac Taylor
1 year ago

“I have faith in Colonel Dalli and the prison administration’s leadership. ….”

Robert Abela has faith in the prison director under whose watch thirteen prisoners (human beings) have died under unnatural circumstances in the space of two years. TWO YEARS.

This is a damning statistic. Malta has never seen anything like it, not even in the middle ages when human rights were non-existent. I remember a time when a prison death used to (rightly) raise the ire of the people. The press would be on it like a vulture over a carcass, the 9Labour) opposition requesting the head of the minister responsible for prisons, and the prime minister’s too. Those were the times when a cheap Lm500 wall clock was the talk of the town, the benchmark of corruption. Today that benchmark runs in the billions.

Now we have been gaslighted into psychological submission, we have been boiled like the proverbial frog who dies happily in the slowly heated pot not noticing the rising temperature, and dies with a big smile on its face.

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