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MALTATODAY 15 August 2021

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16 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 15 AUGUST 2021 NEWS MATTHEW VELLA A foremost critic of Malta's sys- tem of incarceration, the Uni- versity dean Prof. Andrew Azz- opardi, has come out in support of a proposal to have a prison ombudsman oversee Malta's entire system of detention and punishment. The proposal floated in last Sunday's leader of this news- paper, is for a permanent, fully state-funded, independent Pris- on Ombudsman, a parliamen- tary officer who can access and inspect prisons upon demand; obtain documents and data cur- rently off-limits to press and public; speak confidentially with prisoners and staff; and create a new link with incarcerated peo- ple and their families, their rep- resentatives, charities, victim or- ganisations, and the public. Azzopardi said that a prisons ombudsman would work if it breaks with a political tradition of installing lackeys to carry out such inquiries, but instead have a parliamentary officer to carry out regulatory oversight of pris- ons. "They certainly cannot be ac- countable to the minister who is now, in my opinion, with the prison director, subject of the inquiry itself once they have defended the festered system," Prof. Azzopardi said. Two weeks ago, the Correction- al Services Agency announced yet again that a 30-year-old Maltese prison inmate had to hospitalised, after being "found inside his cell after an attempted suicide". It was the second such case since 16 June. Data from the Council of Europe's 'Annual Pe- nal Statistics on Prison Popula- tions for 2020' found that Mal- ta had the highest suicide rate in European prisons – 25.2 per 10,000 inmates – after Iceland. "At this point they don't have a foot to stand on," Prof. Azzo- pardi said of the minister and the prison director, Lt. Col. Alexan- der Dalli. "And I am hoping that the members of the board of the inquiry are allowed to operate autonomously. Needless to say our system already allows for the judiciary, politicians and inter- nal boards of the prison to access and assess the compound and the inmates at any moment they choose – if they have reasonable reason to do so.... more reasons than we've had these last weeks I cannot think of)." An Ombudsman would be equipped with an inspections and complaints investigation section, to also be used to pro- vide information, as appropri- ate, to inmates, family mem- bers, representatives of inmates – even prison staff – and others, regarding the rights of inmates. It would also be tasked to mon- itor conditions of confinement; recommend best practices as related to the health, safety, welfare, and rehabilitation of inmates; collect and analyse da- ta related to complaints and in- cidents inside prisons; oversee prison conditions and staffing; as well as inspect each detention facility in Malta with publicly-is- sued periodic inspection reports, and an annual report with rec- ommendations on the state of Maltese detention centres. Prof. Azzopardi said he also expected that the police should take an active interest in moni- toring activity inside Corradino, considering the number of su- icides and attempted suicides, allegations of torture and coer- cive methods applied, and end- less claims on the media on "so called disciplinary methods". "A new Ombudsman would go a long way into ensuring that things are done in the right way. My only concern is that the whole criminal justice sys- tem needs mending, and with a minister for justice focusing more on defending his political career and a minister of national security who has been duped po- litically by the director/colonel, it makes it an almost impossi- ble task to dig deep into what is happening, heal the wounds, and rethink the system – even the broader criminal justice system – from the ground up. "With a lack of policy and po- litical enthusiasm it has always been this way when it comes to prison inmates. I cannot see this happening – having a prison and probation ombudsman appoint- ed might temporarily appease the anger, but not really solve anything much unless a con- certed effort is taken from the ground up." Prof. Azzopardi had already launched a scathing criticism of Malta's correctional facility at Corradino and what he de- scribed as its militarisation. Az- zopardi, dean of the Faculty of Social Wellbeing, said the Cor- radino prison had been turned into the "3rd regiment of the Armed Forces", in an obvious reference to its prison director, the retired army Lt. Colonel Alex Dalli and his controversial methods of discipline. "We cannot treat the prison as if it was the AFM's third reg- iment, but it has to be both se- cure and provide a transitory process for people to meet with their own humanity rather than make them come to face with the power of aggression," Azzo- pardi said. University dean who has criticised prison stewardship says government- appointed inquiry will not pass muster on problems inside Corradino Prisons ombudsman should replace ministerial inquiry Top: Lt Col. Alex Dalli. Left: Prof. Andrew Azzopardi

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