It pays to repatriate foreign prisoners
Out of a population at the Corradino Correctional Facility of about 585 prisoners, about 212 are foreigners, including 82 EU nationals and 140 from other countries, mostly Africa.
Each prisoner costs the Maltese taxpayer about €18,000 for every year spent behind bars. The present foreign prison population therefore costs Malta just under €4 million a year and this in a prison facility that is known to be grossly overcrowded, understaffed and generally under-resourced.
Against this background, it is, at best, depressing to learn that the system for the repatriation of foreign prisoners to their country of origin, or their new country of adoption in the case of convicted asylum-seekers, is – like so much else in the CCF – fraught with cumbersome bureaucracy and apparent maladministration.
A number of cases have recently come to light where a modicum of flexibility by the authorities and a more efficient system of cooperation and administration would ease the problem.
It is customary for foreign inmates sentenced to serve time in Malta to request a transfer to prisons in their home country, citing several reasons not least a desire to be close to their families and difficulties over language and culture. While a prison transfer is not an automatic right, and agreements between Malta and the receiving state have to be in place for this to be possible, the advantages to Malta, let alone the humanitarian aspects of such arrangements, should also be weighed in the scales.
More than a dozen foreign prisoners have complained that, despite having applied for a prison transfer several months – and, in some cases even years – ago, they were still in the dark about the outcome of their applications. It is unconscionable that a reply, even if only a holding reply, cannot be sent by the authorities within a reasonable period of time. It is the least they can do, if anything, not to add to an inmate’s evident frustration, especially in the case of those individuals being so far away from home.
The present system is further blighted by occasional disparities in the length of sentence awarded by Malta and the receiving state for the same crime. For example, there is a pending case of a Dutchman whose case for repatriation to Holland has been accepted by the Dutch authorities but whose sentence in Malta was 10 months longer than what it would be in The Netherlands. A German citizen has also been caught in a similar predicament.
It would seem reasonable to expect that cases like these should be capable of resolution by the exercise of some flexibility by the authorities concerned, such as an arrangement for the prisoners to serve extra time to match the Maltese sentence through some form of community service.
The prison transfer process appears to be ponderous and too long. It involves the Director of the Corradino Correctional Facility, the Ministry for Home Affairs, the Police Commissioner, the Attorney General and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Of course, one needs to be extra careful and correct when dealing with such transfers but that should not mean procrastinating.
This is an unacceptable situation in a civilised country where foreign prisoners should expect to have their cases treated with respect and administrative efficiency. The Minister for Home Affairs (now the Prime Minister) should ensure that better ways of administering this sadly neglected area of prison business is found without undue delay. It is actually in Malta’s own interest to do so.