Solitary confinement does not, ‘make our communities safer’ – Professor Azzopardi

Credit: jmiller291/Flickr

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Locking up prisoners in solitary confinement, not only worsens their mental health it also liable of making their behaviour worse.

That is the view presented by the Dean of the University of Malta’s Faculty for Well-Being, Professor Andrew Azzopardi.

In a statement on Malta’s use of SC, Professor Azzopardi states that it is high time that such a ‘measure of punishment’ is revoked, stating that it is ‘not commensurate with concepts around rehabilitation that CSA (Correctional Services Authority) is trying to implement.’

According to the Dean, solitary confinement has a lasting and severe impact on a person’s psychological and neurological stability, which is backed up a number of studies. Further to this, the experience is understood to make their chances of rehabilitation into the prison population and society, more difficult.

Professor Azzopardi explains that his statements on the abolition of SC from Malta’s correctional procedures are based on a broad consultation of experts who believe that while it could create bigger problems for the person impacted by them, there also needs to be special training for staff to treat inmates which suffer from post-traumatic stress which results.

Added to this, the use of SC ‘should never be part of the court’s sentencing and more so should not be used as a disciplinary sanction.’

SC in Maltese prisons

Professor Azzopardi explains that according to Maltese law (Criminal Code, 1854), the use of SC against an inmate can only be implemented if they are deemed medically fit to take the punishment.

The law adds that the period of SC limited to 10 days, with a strict interval of 2 months between each SC stint. If the inmate offends during the 2 month time-span, they can be placed in SC once more but for no more than 15 days. In all, an inmate can only face 12 stints in SC according to the law.

If the medical examiner deems the inmate unfit to take the punishment, it can be suspended until they are fit enough to continue.

Costly for the purse, costly for the person

In his list of reasons why SC should be contested and thus revoked in Maltese law, Professor Azzopardi explains that the practice would prove both expensive to the national purse and its costs to the person.

He questions whether the authorities would direct resources to deal with the impacts of SC as well as the probable negative attitudes and consequences which the inmate will feel against society for their treatment. He asks if, ‘we are ready to pay tax money to hurt a locked-up prisoner?’

According to studies raised by the Professor, there are findings suggesting that a number of physical and mentally induced stress-related symptoms, which include everything from emotional breakdown, to panic, anxiety, ‘heightened levels of anxiety and panic; irritability, aggression, and rage; paranoia, ruminations, and violent fantasies; cognitive dysfunction, hypersensitivity to stimuli, and hallucinations; loss of emotional control, mood swings, lethargy, flattened affect, and depression; increased suicidality and instances of self-harm’

‘Locking people up in tiny cells for hours on end is not going to make our communities safer,’ Professor Azzopardi warns.

In concluding his statements on Solitary Confinement, Professor Azzopardi calls on the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the Minister of Justice, Minister for Home Affairs and National Security, Minister for the Family Children’s Rights and Social Solidarity, the Chief Justice, the Speaker of the House and the Members of Parliament to support his petition calling for end to SC in Malta’s prisons.