When I asked the prison director how he can explain the fact that in 2 and a half years of his incumbency, 8 people died in prison in unexplained circumstances, he, and the staff he turned to for supporting answers, gave the following explanations:
- Many people inside and outside prison commit suicide, more now than ever before. No statistical evidence was provided to support the claim that suicides are increasing everywhere.
- It is a very difficult job to clean up after suicides. This is an undoubted truth but irrelevant to the question.
- Most of the 8 did not actually die in prison but were certified dead outside it. Yesterday Nazzareno Mifsud was found dead in his cell. Prison staff tried to revive him and an ambulance carried him away. He was certified dead in hospital. According to the prison’s definition this is not a prison death. I’m afraid that’s bullshit.
- For every prisoner who succeeds in ending their own life, 15 are saved. Taking this statistic of the ratio of failed suicide attempts as a factor of the successful ones, it is clear that in extremis prison staff are doing sterling work. But the same analysis that is needed to understand why 10 people’s lives ended inexplicably under the wardership of Alexander Dalli, requires us to understand why 150 people tried to end it, albeit most of them unsuccessfully. There are around 650 prisoners (July 2019 data) which means that give or take one in five has tried to kill themselves. Perhaps a sociologist can tell us how this compares with rates in the general population.
Alexander Dalli’s mission of abolishing drugs in prison is admirable and as far as can be perceived he has been successful in achieving this. But do his unorthodox methods of breaking spirits to fit into his disciplinary regime have mortal side effects?
There’s a science to managing prisons. It is the subject of research for decades. There are specialists who have studied the experiments in the real world, the successful and the failed. You don’t learn that science flying helicopters for the AFM.
The government has the responsibility to immediately stop the blood-letting. They can’t keep looking away as news of prison deaths become as normal as the weather report. Things become normal here because we often have so little to compare them with. It’s not like we have 5 prisons and we can rank which one is most successful at preventing unexplained deaths. We only have the one and all we can compare it with is its own past.
This is not normal.