Pandemic leaves prison at breaking point

Uffiċjal Kordin ħabs
Ritratt: Facebook - CCF

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation at the Corradino Correctional Facility, which sources have described as “out of control.”

The prison, which houses some 900 inmates, suffers from a dearth of space which has also been acknowledged by the director of prisons Alex Dalli.

The consequences of such overcrowding in a pandemic may be predictable: Newsbook.com.mt is reliably informed that the number of active cases of Covid-19 within the prison has been on the increase, peaking at around 20 in recent days.

Late last month, a spokesperson for the Home Affairs Ministry had explained that the prison’s maximum security facility, Division 6, had been repurposed as a quarantine facility for the time being.

New inmates placed with Covid-19 patients

This newsroom has received numerous calls and messages from correctional officers and inmates’ relatives alike, expressing their anger at how new inmates are being sent straight to Division 6 where those who test positive for Covid-19 are being held.

There have been instances where new inmates were placed in the so-called green room – a small cell typically used for inmates who require medical treatment who are either deemed dangerous to others or a danger to themselves. Newsbook.com.mt has even informed that there have been cases where the cell held two inmates – one positive for Covid-19, the other not.

Division 14 – known as the Female Division B until recently – has also been repurposed for quarantine purposes.

Within these divisions, nurses have been asked to carry out some routine tasks generally handled by correctional officers within these division, such as the distribution of food and other supplies and the removal of rubbish.

But while correctional officers who spoke to the newsroom understood that this was being done for their benefit, they nevertheless expressed concern about the safety of the nurses involved.

And in spite of the quarantine areas, the same correctional officers revealed that not every Covid-19 patient was being isolated. This has been the case in the low-security Division 19 – which houses some 40 inmates in a dormitory setting – when one inmate tested positive for the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, 50 inmates in the women’s section have been constrained to remain in their cells all day; some of them have tested positive.

What is happening in Division 6 and the single rooms?

The relative of an inmate being held in Division 6 made the following allegations:

  • The cells were fumigated in recent days, but while the correctional officers wore protective clothing, inmates were left in their cells, suffering stomach and eye irritation in the process
  • A single room – 10 feet by 7 – is housing four inmates
  • One of these single rooms is housing three Covid-19 patients: the fourth inmate is a vulnerable person
  • Inmates can only leave their cells to shower and to make calls. But permission to make calls often takes time: when relatives phone, correctional officers insist on the need to limit calls
  • Hygienic conditions leave a lot to be desired, with cockroaches and mosquitos ubiquitous

Can overcrowding be addressed?

Prison sources have highlighted to Newsbook.com.mt that the law authorises the minister responsible for prisons to declare that other venues may serve as correctional facilities to address overcrowding and to improve living conditions for inmates. They put forward various options:

  • The Paola police station is actually connected to the prison, and can thus easily be incorporated.
  • Correctional officers in training could be sent to the Academy for Disciplined Forces at Ta’ Kandja, thus freeing up the classrooms and pre-fabricated structures they use within Corradino.
  • The administration block can be transformed into temporary cells: it had been designed and equipped with this possibility in mind. The offices can be moved to pre-fabricated structures instead.