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Disabled inmates ‘live at mercy of other prisoners’

Disabled prisoners are dependent on the goodwill of their fellow detainees. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Disabled prisoners are dependent on the goodwill of their fellow detainees. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Prisoners’ rights campaigners have backed up claims by lawyer Tonio Azzopardi that the Corradino Correctional Facility is “totally unprepared” for physically disabled inmates.

Corradino was not built with these people in mind

Dr Azzopardi wrote a letter published in The Times on New Year’s Eve about a client with one arm who spent several days at the prison awaiting bail.

“He received no assistance whatsoever. There was no one to help him wash. No nursing assistance was provided. No special care was available,” Dr Azzopardi wrote.

The lawyer concluded that this amounted to “degrading and inhuman treatment”.

Mark Vella, director of Prison Fellowship Malta, a Christian outreach organisation, said physically disabled prisoners were being “punished twice” for their crimes if they were not given the appropriate care and services.

He was unaware of any special care or nursing provisions available to physically disabled inmates. “They live at the mercy of other prisoners,” Mr Vella said.

George Busuttil, director of prisoners’ advocacy group Mid-Dlam Għad-Dawl, confirmed that physically disabled prisoners were dependent on the goodwill of their fellow detainees.

One prisoner currently serving time at Corradino had to have a makeshift ramp built so he could access his bottom floor cell in his wheelchair, according to Mr Busuttil. “Corradino was not built with these people in mind.”

Prisoners in both the old and new sections of Corradino, the only civilian prison in Malta, are housed in cells across several floors accessed by stairs.

The National Commission Persons with Disability (KNPD) said the prisons director failed to respond to concerns it raised 18 months ago about conditions for physically disabled inmates at Corradino.

KNPD chairman Joseph Camilleri raised the concerns in a letter after he was copied into an e-mail sent to the prisons director Abraham Zammit by Dr Azzopardi in June 2011.

In his e-mail Dr Azzopardi highlighted the problems his disabled client faced at Corradino.

“We do agree with the lawyer (Dr Azzopardi) – disabled people are entitled to the support they need in prison,” said KNPD executive director Anne-Marie Callus.

Ms Callus referred to the KNPD’s recent report on the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

In it, the KNPD called for structured support for disabled prisoners and for a one-year deadline for this support to become embedded in the system.

Disability equality training should be compulsory for personnel who work with disabled prisoners and a code of practice for such personnel should also be drawn up, the KNPD said.

Furthermore, it proposed that personnel should be aware of the services that disabled prisoners can be referred to.

Questions sent to the Home Affairs Ministry, which oversees correctional services, remained unanswered at the time of going to press.

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