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Malta prison ‘luxurious’ in comparison to others

A day after an inmate complained about “horrendous” prison conditions, claiming heroin use, beatings and mental abuse were the order of the day, the man in charge of keeping the prison under scrutiny has described it as “luxurious” in comparison with others.

“When you compare it to other countries, believe me, ours is a luxury... I’m telling you, I’m not exaggerating. It might sound like a bit of an exaggeration but we do fare very well,” Ivan Mifsud, chairman of the Prison Board, said.

He said he would take no action on the prisoner’s allegations because the letter containing them was addressed to Justice Minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici and not to the Prison Board.

“Of course I won’t intervene on these specific matters unless it’s passed on to me,” he said.

He was asked to react to the letter penned by Dutch prisoner Perry Toornstra who, among other things, claimed he had not reformed but turned into a “chain-smoking heroin addict who has developed a total understanding of how to commit, and even enjoy, heinous unthinkable crimes”.

Mr Toornstra – who claimed he was beaten by guards when he tried to escape in 2008 – threatened to sue the government on his release this year because he was kept segregated for 11 years without “work, education or sports” in an “inhumane” division.

Dr Mifsud refused to comment on the allegations: “Any comment on my part would be premature because I think the minister has to have the time to see the letter and react himself. I can’t give public comments that might pre-empt in any way anything he might want to say.”

The Ministry of Justice has said it would look into the allegations and reply to the prisoner accordingly through the various institutions.

While conceding his board was independent, Dr Mifsud said his job was to carry out regular visits in prison and report to the ministry on any identified problems and not to look into complaints that were not even made to the board.

Asked if he was satisfied with the ministry’s attitude towards improving prison shortcomings, he said: “It’s a slow process... When it comes to the government the process is always slow and not in a bad sense. It’s a delicate institution. You can’t change things overnight. Things have to be well planned and well implemented.”

Although he admitted much more had to be done to improve things in prison, he said there had been “a certain amount of progress” and there were a lot of hurdles to overcome, caused by public perception and lack of funds.

“The government wants to bring the prisons up to standard,” he said, adding they were already in a state of “luxury” when compared to other countries.

He said the prison was watched by external monitors and inspectors who also came from abroad.

The worst thing about prison, he said, was that inmates lost their freedom, the value of which they only appreciated when it was taken away from them.

“When you have a long sentence and you see the years of your life passing by you say: Yes, I made a mistake, but I was 20 then and I’m 35 now... Even if you have the best (prison) system, once you lose your liberty... that’s the price you pay.”

Dr Mifsud said he might have taken action had the prisoner made serious criminal allegations.

In the letter, Mr Toornstra alleged he was being ill-treated every day by three officers who had tried to cover up his beating by four other guards.

Dr Mifsud said he was not aware of this allegation because he was never given the letter. “If I don’t have the letter... this is news to me, what can I say about it? I cannot say anything. And he didn’t address (the letter) to me, it’s to the minister. It is still the minister or the ministry that has to answer. They can look into it themselves.”

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