A young woman was sentenced behind bars for petty crimes spurred on by her drug addiction. The consequence was fatal and a stark reminder that Malta’s criminal justice system is failing those who need the most help.
Malta’s handling of the issue has been weak at best. The woman suffered immensely behind CCF’s walls, eventually taking her own life. Psychologists failed to see the warning signs. She was the 10th prison death since the start of 2019.
People are dying behind the prison’s walls when they should have never been there in the first place. The latest case was yet another victim of Malta’s treatment of people who commit offences because of their drug abuse.
There is a close relationship between drug abuse and crime. Drug abusers often commit crimes to sustain their addiction, with many finding it hard to keep down employment when battling what should ultimately be considered a health issue.
As of March 2021, there were 38 inmates receiving methadone treatment and over 185 prisoners receiving psychological treatment to help them overcome their drug addiction.
That means that almost a third of all inmates are drug abusers – a worrying indication of Malta’s criminalisation of addicts.
Malta’s prison warden and Home Affairs Ministry take any chance they get to claim CCF is free of drugs. However, our current system is forcing addicts who are in desperate need of treatment to enter incarceration and ultimately fail to address their addiction. It should be of no surprise that plenty of inmates eventually relapse once leaving the prison.
Yes, drug treatment in jails should be improved drastically. But by putting drug treatment at the centre of our criminal justice system, we simply institutionalise addicts placement there.
Any contact with our justice system affects people beyond their time behind bars. Incarceration or a criminal conviction for drug addicts who commit crimes to sustain their addiction fails to address the root causes behind their offences.
It also reinforces the belief that people battling addiction deserve punishment – undoing a worldwide drive to view addiction as a serious health issue.
Meanwhile, our justice system allows architects and developers who caused the death of a mother-of-two to walk away with a fine and a slap on the wrist. The two men who allegedly murdered Lassanne Cisse are out on the streets on bail, while Daniel Muka allegedly murdered two innocent men after being granted bail for a violent crime.
It appears that our justice system cares little for major criminals – putting its focus on punishing the weakest and washing its hands of crimes that really matter.
That’s not to say the government has done nothing and has worked to decriminalise softer drugs. Still, many drug users go to prison and despite the government’s best efforts, Malta’s prisons are built to punish and isolate, not rehabilitate.
Creating an efficient, external community-based program to specifically house and treat drug addicts who have been imprisoned will not only help the victims themselves but also free up funds to downsize the prison and provide a stronger rehabilitative structure for other prisoners.
Instead, Malta is wasting time, money, and resources by saddling people with a criminal record and sending them behind bars when what they need is proper access to effective treatment and services.
Not to mention, the pressure the cases have on the justice system, which has some of the worst delays in Europe.
Our criminal justice system simply should not become Malta’s health strategy when handling drug addicts who commit crimes to sustain their addiction.
At present, only in death can a drug user become a victim. Until then, they are criminals, isolated and ignored by a system that is duty-bound to protect them.
For decades, this country waged a failed war on drugs. The government has taken note, proposing substantial reform when it comes to cannabis.
However, policies that punish drug users who commit crimes to sustain their addiction with jail time and keep sufferers from proven treatments is a major failure in Malta’s war on drugs and attempts to help those who desperately need it.
Drug addiction has become one of the many social problems that we’ve relegated to the criminal justice system. It has not made it better, rather it is turning Malta’s prison into a mausoleum – a Taj Mahalic reminder of our failure to help addicts.
Should Malta reform its treatment of drug addicts?