A prisoner who discovered a cellmate who tried to commit suicide at Corradino Correctional Facility last weekend has spoken out on the appalling conditions in jail, saying they were pushing inmates to the brink.
Anthony Borg, who has just been released, described Malta’s prison as the “Corradino Vindictive Facility”, where vindictiveness is the order of the day and where prisoners are made to feel like schoolchildren.
In a revealing interview with Times of Malta, he also claimed prisoners were punished by being transferred to worse divisions inside the Paola facility.
He also said he was placed with a COVID-19 positive inmate for five days before his requests to be transferred to another cell were finally acceded to.
Borg opened up about the horror behind the notorious CCF just three days after his release and four days after discovering his cellmate had tried to take his life.
Dalli 'goes around armed with a revolver'
He explained how he has been in and out of jail for several years, mostly due to his drug addiction and petty crimes to fund his habit but life in jail became too difficult since Colonel Alex Dalli took over as CCF director.
“He goes around armed with a revolver and with two bodyguards. He’s crazy. He should be locked up in Ward 10 (the forensic ward). Prisoners and the prison warders are going crazy working with him. Prison should have its name changed to the ‘vindictive facility’ because they bend over backwards to be vindictive with inmates. There’s no help at all.
“They do not look at us as human beings. Maybe the director doesn’t even know what’s happening, but he gave them (prison warders) so much power that it will soon get out of hand,” Borg said.
He said he once got into a verbal argument with him on the limited access to telephone calls to call relatives. Borg told him to “f*** off” and Dalli retaliated by placing him in Division 6 for an entire summer and removed five months of remission.
Borg said he got sent back to jail around three weeks ago when he was not granted bail over alleged theft. Upon entering, he was strip-searched and then still forced to go through through the special x-ray machine that was meant to avoid the need of strip searches.
“I was placed in a single room, without any fresh air. We are usually placed there for a day. I told the director to get me out of there and the following morning I was placed in Division 6, located upstairs and very hot. The only window is full of metal gratings and barely any air gets in. I got a heat rash all over my body. I told them I’m going to die of heat here. I could not bear the heat and told them that if I was not moved, I was going to hang myself. After five minutes they came and told me to pack up because they were taking me to the Forensic Ward at Mount Carmel,” he said.
Excrement on Mount Carmel walls
Once at Mount Carmel, he was placed in a room that was not bigger than three metres by three metres. There were two mattresses with no bedsheets, one directly on the floor and another one on a wooden plank.
He spent one night there, naked, in a cell monitored by CCTV cameras because it was meant for those on suicide watch.
“This cell has a hole in the ground where you need to urinate and wash your face. There are splatters of excrement on the walls. It’s scary,” he recounted.
He said he was examined by a psychiatrist the following morning and the decision was taken to change his cell but the inmate in his new lockup had COVID-19.
“I pleaded with them to move me somewhere else, but they ignored me. After five days they came and told me they were shifting me elsewhere so I would not get the virus. They moved me to another cell with this prisoner who tried committing suicide (last Sunday). He was in quarantine and we did the two-week quarantine together,” he said.
The new cell had a stainless steel toilet and a hand basin.
I could not bear the heat and told them that if I was not moved, I was going to hang myself. They took me to Mount Carmel
Fainting with heat
“We were happy there even though we did not go out much. We spent the day talking about different things. He told me what he had been up to and exchanged experiences. When our quarantine was up, they transferred us back to CCF where they placed us in a single room again. We asked them why they were doing this because we were locked up in the forensic ward for a lot of time, but they wouldn’t listen. It was a terrible night. The heat was simply unbearable,” he said.
During the night, his cellmate fainted from the heat and he spent the night wetting his face.
The following morning, his cellmate told officers he could not take the heat any longer and was seriously considering committing suicide. He was taken to the clinic where he was examined by a psychiatrist.
A short-lived cool shower
They were then taken to Division 20, which has much larger cells that fit eight or nine prisoners. But at least there was a shower in the cell and a toilet, each with its own cubicle.
“I called my mother and told her I was not in a bad place and I could take a shower at 4am to cool off. But the following morning they came and told us to pack up and transferred us again. They probably listened to the call and made sure I wouldn’t take a shower at 4am,” he said.
His cellmate did not want to go to Division 12 because there is nothing to do and it is impossible to do any work there.
“It’s not a nice division. There are about 70 people in there. Even if you come out of the shower with a towel you’re punished. We’re treated like schoolchildren. As soon as you open your mouth, you get punished. Some of the new officials are arrogant and have annoyed everyone to the point of exhaustion. There are air conditioners around the prison but none in divisions,” he said.
Talk of severe beatings
Borg said officials never lifted a finger on him because he “never crossed the line” but remembered the day a busload of immigrants was brought in after an uprising in a closed centre.
“One day I remember I was in division 5 when a busload of immigrants arrived. They beat them up and it was bad. I did not see it myself because I was on the other side of the division but other prisoners who have seen much worse were amazed at the way they were beaten and kicked around,” he said.
All inmates would find a sandwich hanging to their cell door in the morning and are given their midday meal at 10am before they are locked up again in their cells.
On drugs in prison, Borg said it was a myth that there were more drugs inside the prison walls.
“There was never that much and the little there was, was expensive. Then we switched to synthetic drugs because they are hard to detect with urine tests but people don’t realise the damage these synthetic drugs cause. Normal drugs are vitamins when compared to synthetic drugs.”
Still, he praised the CCF director for managing to eradicate drugs from jail, saying the punishments awaiting anyone found with anything, even paracetamol, were not worth it.
CPR for cellmate who made an attempt on his life
Borg first met the prisoner who attempted to take his own life last Sunday when he was first taken to Mount Carmel’s Forensic Ward at and was the first one to give him first aid when he found him in critical condition in their Division 12 cell.
“Last Sunday, I told him I was going to go out (of the cell) but he said he preferred staying in. He was sitting preparing a coffee at that time. At 5pm, when I returned to the cell because our time was up, I peeped through the peephole but didn’t see him. Then I looked through the keyhole and I saw him trying to take his life. We went in, the warder and I started CPR until the nurses and doctors arrived and took over.”
Borg said the victim expressed suicidal thoughts with him in the past three weeks but said he would not follow through because he would go to hell. He is now still in intensive care.
“I never imagined he would do this in 100 years. I don’t think he told anyone he was planning to take his life. No one speaks to us to see how we are. Whenever he mentioned it, I always talked him out of it, telling him the worst is over and that he would soon be out of jail. I tried lifting his spirits,” Borg said.
Prison replies: inmates are ‘treated with respect’
The Correction Services Agency at Corradino prisons has defended its procedures and insisted that its personnel was professional to deal with demands and difficult backgrounds.
The prison authorities were contacted following a series of damning accusations of a former inmate, who also discovered a cellmate who tried to commit suicide.
CCF said every inmate may and is encouraged to report any wrongdoing to the prison monitoring board and was prepared to discuss all the relevant questions with the medical professionals who serve at prison.
“The CSA reaffirms its position in treating the matters related suicide with great responsibility, even in the way these are reported to the public. Such a subject is of great sensitivity and can be of instigation to others. Residents at CCF are to be treated with respect like all the other Maltese citizens.”
All the cells in the CCF are equipped with fans, now including Division 6, which is currently closed and undergoing refurbishment.
Within the CCF there are “plenty of activities to occupy” inmates and by which they are gaining new knowledge, working in accordance with their respective skills while even providing services to the outside community.
Inmates are obliged to abide by certain regulations, as are officers. CCF said standardised regulations and rules are important as they reinforce societal principles – a rehabilitated inmate is one who respects enforced laws and regulations when discharged back to the community.
“The relationship between officers and inmates is predominantly positive and to a certain degree therapeutic. As part of the recruitment programme – new officers are not only given training in first aid and basic life support but also in de-escalation of aggressive or uncooperative individuals. Healthy attitudes that build therapeutic relationships with inmates are sought in candidates who apply as officers within the CSA. In addition, these behaviours are encouraged and taught by CSA psychologists and health care professionals.”
A new inmate admitted to CCF is seen by a doctor and nurses within an hour or two of his admission. He or she is specifically asked about thoughts of self-harm, suicidal intent or suicidal wishes. These questions, although direct are backed by science to be an effective component as a screening tool in suicide prevention and prevention of self-harm. The doctors see approximately 30-50 inmates per day.
Apart from treating medical issues, the inmates are routinely asked to see how they are faring in the prison setting and are encouraged to speak up should any psychological stresses arise.
Nurses visit every division three times a day, to address and tackle medical issues and to dispense medications. This allows inmates to keep in contact with medical personnel seven days a week. In addition, when indicated, inmates are referred to psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers.
During the past three years, the CSA recruited 25 professionals.
In the past years, the CSA has also purchased an advanced and modern X-ray machine. However, should there be a concern during any particular scan, the officers are obliged to carry out a strip search. This is the exception and not the rule nowadays but if needed it is done in accordance with the relative law.
At the Forensic Unit at Mount Carmel Hospital, the inmates are constantly followed by doctors.
“All inmates are clothed. If there is a high risk of suicide they are kept with Level 1 supervision (constant watch with a qualified nurse) and wearing non-tearable clothes. The Forensic Unit is run by specialised psychiatrists who are meticulously trained in providing acute and effective psychiatric care.”
On admission to prison, incoming inmates undergo rapid antigen testing which gives a result in 15 minutes and a separate PCR COVID-19 swab. In the case referred by Borg, the rapid antigen test was negative for this individual and also for his cell mate. However, his cell mate resulted positive on PCR swab one day later.
In a context of an individual who already had over 24 hours of contact with a positive case and in view of limited space in the forensic unit, both individuals were quarantined together until another cell was made available. They both had their parameters (blood pressure, pulse, temperature, oxygen saturations) monitored twice daily for the duration of their quarantine. Both individuals had full vaccination prior to their period of quarantine.
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