Prisoners are not being given a fair chance at rehabilitation because of a shortage of social workers and psychologists, according to a prisoner advocacy group calling for more investment in care workers.

The NGO, Mid-Dlam Għad-Dawl, was reacting to figures tabled in Parliament showing that 172 new staff were needed at the Corradino Correctional Facility, among them seven social workers and psychologists.

“We need more social workers; these are the crux of the entire rehabilitation process,” George Busuttil, who heads the advocacy group, said.

Asked how many social workers and psychologists were currently employed at the facility, Mr Busuttil could not commit to a figure but said there were “just a few”.

Rehabilitation services at the Paola prison are available through a variety of channels. But according to Mr Busuttil, the 637 inmates were not given enough access. This, he said, had shifted the prison’s focus away from reforming criminals and onto rendering them incapable of committing crimes.

“If the prison were a private entity it would have gone bust ages ago. It is not fulfilling its main goal of reforming inmates. Instead we are simply preventing them from committing further offences by keeping them locked up in here,” he said.

Prisoners, he added, were normally given a care plan and regular assessments by care workers. But the staff shortage meant follow-up sessions were postponed for months on end or not held at all.

“We have reached a point where inmates are not getting regular attention from social workers and psychologists. This is particularly worrying when you consider that many prisoners have very troubled family lives and often suffer from psychological conditions,” Mr Busuttil said.

The sentiment was shared by prison chaplain Fr Franco Fenech, who said when contacted that the situation had persisted for several years. Fr Fenech joined Mr Busuttil’s call for further investment in care workers, but cautioned against expecting too much from the prison system.

“In its current state, the prison cannot be expected to work miracles. A lot of people seem to put the blame on the institution, but you have to work hard to improve things,” he said, adding that the situation among the 50 nationalities of inmates was often quite tense.

Speaking from his small office in the prison’s general block, the chaplain urged society not to think of the prison institution as a place intended simply to lock people away.

“This can be an opportunity to reintroduce people into society, and remove them from prison,” he said.