Since August 1999, for four whole years,
a prohibition had been in force denying Mid-Dlam ghad-Dawl entrance
Juvenile Section (YOURS) and thus prohibiting the organisation
from accomplishing its duties with the young offenders and their
families. The ban was lifted in December 2004. The reason for the
existence of the prohibition had been quite a mystery. Notwithstanding
ghad-Dawl had never been given an official explanation. For the
rest, we were left to guess. What had provoked this impasse?
What had kept it subsisting for so long?
• The Juvenile
Section was established in October 1996, on the eve of the
General Elections in Malta. An upper storey at the "Debituri" (Debtors')
complex (see no.3 on map)
was re-arranged to house male minors in cubicle-cells along
a large longish hall. The whole thing was really a make-shift
at least, vulnerable young man could be given shelter in a
protective environment. And this was all the section could do
for the time
being since, incidentally, no structured-day programme was
ready to come into force. The very officials of the new section
not even given any special training to deal with the young
offenders, and were not professionals. They were merely transferred
section from the main divisions and simply expected to "get
along". The co-ordination of
the section was placed under the responsibility of Joseph Attard,
• From the
very beginning, Mid-Dlam
ghad-Dawl had the authorities' permission to visit regularly
the Juvenile Section on a weekly basis, which, obviously, Mid-Dlam
ghad-Dawl never failed to do. A warm relationship was established
between the volunteers of the organisation and the young man
housed there, a relationship based on mutual confidence and trust.
Indeed, the volunteers were very much appreciated by the Juvenile
administration since the young offenders felt loved and respected.
• At the
beginning of 1997, Mid-Dlam ghad-Dawl's member, Dr Mark Montebello,
was chosen to be part of the Prison
Board of Visitors, and consequently Mid-Dlam ghad-Dawl's
relation to the Juvenile, as to other main sections of the prisons,
immensely. On commission from the Board, in July 1997 Dr Montebello
studied the deteriorating situation at the Juvenile, and made
practical and workable recommendations for its regeneration.
The relation between Mid-Dlam ghad-Dawl and the Juvenile were
more than cordial. A truly comfortable and warm relationship
had set in that facilitated work with the inmates and their families.
• The relationship
persisted even when the Juvenile Section was removed from the
"Debituri" complex, and reallocated to a newly-built
division within the boundary walls of the Paola prison complex
on the map). This move was
done on June 3, 1999. At that time, Mid-Dlam ghad-Dawl had George
Busuttil on the Prison Board of Visitors.
Visits to the Juvenile by Mid-Dlam ghad-Dawl continued on a regular
basis until August 1999.
Meetings at the Juvenile were always held in
the presence of prison wardens, and nothing was ever said or
done in secret, but in full view of everyone there.
• One fine
Tuesday — August 17, 1999 — at
around 6.00 pm, the volunteers of Mid-Dlam ghad-Dawl presented
doors of the Juvenile Section
so as to visit as usual. They were asked, however, to call off
the meeting since on
day the youths could not receive them. Acquiescing,
the unsuspecting volunteers left quietly.
The same happened the following Tuesday. This
time, the volunteers asked Anthony Schembri, the Assistant Manager
responsible of Rehabilitation and the Juvenile Section, for an
explanation. This official offered some excuse, and said that
the suspension of visits to the Juvenile by Mid-Dlam ghad-Dawl
was on a temporal basis.
The situation, however, persisted, and Anthony
Schembri continued to bring forward other excuses, all different,
which later resulted to be all blatant lies. The prohibition
• Until January
2000, it seemed that the prohibition did not go beyond a drastic
measure by an Assistant Manager. But during a meeting with Prison
Director, Emmanuel Cassar, in the first week of January it transpired
that it was the Prison Director himself who had issued the prohibition.
Whenever asked the reason for the prohibition, Director Cassar
never gave an answer, and simply answered "Ghax hekk" (Because
it has to be so).
Mid-Dlam ghad-Dawl decided to put up some resistance by organising
the families of prisoners held at the Juvenile. A meeting was
organised on February 9, for which the families attended numerously.
However, nobody turned up for a second meeting on March 9. Eventually,
it transpired that the youths at the Juvenile were strongly warned
to advise their family relations not to attend meetings organised
by Mid-Dlam ghad-Dawl.
• On March
16 Mid-Dlam ghad-Dawl met the Minister for Home Affairs, Dr Tonio
Borg. His response to the Juvenile question, however, was that
for the time being we had to have patience and wait as the situation
was not likely to resolve itself.
And wait we did for four whole
all this period Mid-Dlam ghad-Dawl has never missed one single
opportunity to insist on the lifting of the prohibition.
No no avail, however. On August 18, 2001, it even put up a public
protest in front of the prisons' Main Gate. But not even this
brought an end to the prohibition.
Protest before the prisons at Paola
• A year
later, in August 2002, Prison Director Emmanuel Cassar was removed
from office. Inspector Neville Aquilina took his place as Acting
Director. Having a good relationship with Aquilina, Mid-Dlam
ghad-Dawl immediately proposed the lifting of the prohibition.
The Acting Director was in principle in favour of lifting it,
however he preferred to wait a bit to see how things developed.
Unfortunately, however, Neville Aquilina did not make any progress
in the matter.
• At the
end of January 2003, a new Acting Director was appointed, Inspector
Sandro Gatt, who also had a good relationship with Mid-Dlam ghad-Dawl.
The lifting of the prohibition was again proposed, this time
backed by Neville Aquilina. Again the new Acting Director was
not, in principle, against the lifting of the four-year prohibition.
By the first week of February 2003 things appeared
to be moving fast, and the prohibition seemed to be in its last
days. In fact, on January 30, a meeting was held with the Juvenile
Section's Coordinator, Joanne Battistino, on the logistical
details of Mid-Dlam ghad-Dawl's re-entrance.
• On March
4th, however, Mid-Dlam ghad-Dawl once again had the misfortune
of being told, by Sandro Gatt, that the prohibition was upheld,
this time on a Ministerial level. The prohibition shall not be
lifted, even if the relations between Mid-Dlam ghad-Dawl and
the civil authorities had progressed considerably.
• This Juvenile
Question was again discussed with the Minister of Justice and
Home Affairs, Dr Tonio Borg, on June 12, 2003. The Minister was
but did not, at least, outrule the lifting of the prohibition.
• On July
29, 2003, during an official visit to Mid-Dlam ghad-Dawl, Minister
of Justice and Home Affairs, Dr Tonio Borg, declared that the
lifting of the prohibition was being "actively considered".