Updated - Prisons report unearths widespread irregularities

Seven members of staff were absent during minister's visit

An investigation by the Home Affairs Ministry has unearthed a litany of irregularities in the attendance of staff at the prisons in Corradino,

The report was commissioned after the minister, Manuel Mallia, made a surprise visit to the facility on April 7 and found a number of warders absent.

The investigation was headed by the ministry's permanent secretary and includes recommendations which will be passed on to the prison administration.

Silvio Scerri, chief of staff at the ministry said the names of the prison warders were not being issued, pending disciplinary action. However the report - excluding some security matters - will be published.

He said the salient points of the findings were:

At least seven officers (and not four as originally declared) were missing from their posts during his visit.

There was regular shortcoming in punch clock recording (recording of when workers arrive and leave).

There were serious shortcomings in the recording of leave, particularly urgent leave.

In 2009 a report had already been made by the Auditor-General about the poor recording of attendance and absenteeism, but nothing was done about it.

'No one was accountable in all levels," Mr Scerri said in a press conference. "Malpractices has been going on for years".

He said that over 25 months, over 100 entries in the attendance sheets were erased. The related punch clock records were also erased.

Yet there were also hundreds of entries showing irregular and unauthorised hours when workers left their work.

Furthermore when permission for absence was given, it was often verbal and not written and recorded.

The fall-in of the staff had not been held for years.

The prison management in 18 months met only twice.

Immediately after the minister's surprise visit on April 7, attendance entries started being made and the fall in was held.

Mr Scerri said the findings of the report were worrying. The seven missing warders had given weak reasons for their absence, such as that it was the practice to leave without authorisation and that it was normal to leave early.

One of the warders said he left to buy medicine for his wife, took it home and stayed there.

"There was a whole system of how one would leave early, with absent of mis-matching records," Mr Scerri said.

He was sure that had they not seized CCTV footage early, it would have been lost.

In some cases, he said, overtime was paid when people were not at work.

Among its recommendations, the investigation said the absent warders should be subjected to disciplinary action in terms of Public Service Commission and prison rules.

It called for a single attendance system including overtime and temporary absence. No records may be erased or covered using 'tipex'.

There should be a system of double checking of attendance and leave and all permissions have to be written and not verbal. Working hours need to be clear and documented.

Replying to questions,Mr Scerri said the ministry was continuing with its consideration of having two directors at the prison, one responsible for administration and the other for correctional services. However, it may be that one of them would retain overall command.

The various sections of the prison - such as the juvenile section - would be kept as separate as possible, with the first thrust being to take the young offenders away from Corradino.

"We have had situations where people come here without ever having touched drugs, and then they start taking drugs here," Mr Scerri said. He also pointed out how the prison authorities earlier this week intercepted a woman who was attempting to take drugs in the prison (hidden in her private parts).

Replying to questions on the warders who are undergoing proceedings, he said they were of various ranks. Some were policemen. Now that there was firm evidence of what had happened, some would be suspended. 

Disciplinary action would also be taken against other people, including a major and the person around whom all this revolved, Mr Scerri said. This, he said was not the former director who, he believed, did not know about all these irregularities and who would retain his position in the police force.

Mr Scerri said he did not feel prison security was compromised as a result of these failings, but it certainly was not complete.



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