« "Lafler and Frye: Two Small Band-Aids for a Festering Wound" | Main | Seeking comments on what to say in comments to the US Sentencing Commission about its priorities »

June 18, 2013

With overcrowded prisons and under court order, Italy is the California of Europe when it comes to punishment practices

Carceri_italiane_ansa-jpg_370468210-jpg-crop_displayThis lengthy new article from the International Business Times prompts my post title because it details how Italy is struggling through prison problems that sound a lot like what California continues to deal with.  The piece is headlined "Italy’s Overcrowded Prisons: A Growing Tragedy Of Epic Proportions," and here are excerpts:

Prisons across Europe are facing an overcrowding crisis -- a manifestation of at least three trends: tougher sentencing by judges (particularly for drug-related offenses), a painfully slow justice system and lack of money to build new facilities to accommodate the excess number of inmates.

This crisis is particularly acute in Italy, where correctional facilities are bursting at the seams with an avalanche of convicted men and women.  According to the Prison Observatory of Antigone, a Rome-based prisoners' rights organization, almost 67,000 inmates are housed in Italian facilities that were designed to hold only 45,000 -- meaning they are at a capacity of more than 140 percent, among the highest rates in the European Union, where the average capacity is just under 100 percent.

The situation in Italian prisons has become so grave that in January of this year, the European Court of Human Rights declared that Italy had just one year to improve conditions in the country's prisons, while ordering Rome to fork over 100,000 euros ($132,000) to seven inmates who raised a test case with the court. “Their conditions of detention had subjected them to hardship of an intensity exceeding the unavoidable level of suffering inherent in detention, and violated the European Convention on Human Rights’ prohibition against torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” the court stated.

Italy's president Giorgio Napolitano (who has no real power to influence public policy) agreed with the court's ruling, saying it amounted to "a mortifying confirmation of the persistent failure of our state to guarantee the basic rights of detainees awaiting judgment and serving sentences.” He added that "decisions can no longer be postponed to overcome a degrading reality for the inmates and for the prison guards.”...

Three years ago, having declared a state of emergency in the nation's prisons, the government unveiled a plan to spend 675 million euros ($900 million in 2013 currency) to build 11 new prisons and as well as extensions to existing jails. But the financial collapse has largely scuttled that program.

As in France, many Italians are being jailed for minor crimes -- about 60 percent of convicted prisoners are serving terms of less than three years. Moreover, about 38 percent of all inmates in Italy are drug offenders (versus figures of 14 percent in Germany and France and 15 percent in England and Wales). In addition, 42 percent of Italy’s prisoners are pre-trial detainees (versus a European average of 28.5 percent); while more than one-third of inmates are immigrants.

"There are so many people awaiting trial for six, seven, eight months," said Cesare Cececotto, an inmate at Regina Coeli, a famous prison in Rome. Another inmate named Giuseppe Rampello complained to Reuters about the large number of foreigners in prison. "We are talking about a prison where you can be in a cell with people with six different languages, six different habits, where there is one who prays as an observant Muslim five times a day and another who swears five times a minute," the 63-year-old inmate said....

In northern prisons, foreigners far outnumber Italians – Antigone said that in jails in Milan and Vicenza, more than 60 percent of inmates are foreign, while in the mountain territories of Trentino Alto Adige and Valle d’Aosta, the proportion reaches nearly 70 percent. Cececotto quipped that as the only Italian in his cell, “Thank God, I speak a bit of English and a bit of Spanish.”

In its 2012 report, Antigone declared that "the heart of the prison problem is the penal code.” Napolitano's wish to reform prison sentencing guidelines was compromised by political infighting and the change in government earlier this year. "Something must be done because the prisons are close to collapse," a senior prison official, Margherita Marras, told Reuters....

An inmate named Claudio told Inter Press Service about conditions in his Vicenza facility in March 2013 -- where he had to share a 7.6 square-meter (80 square foot) cell with two other people and stay there 21 hours per day. “Once you excluded the space taken up by beds and drawers, each inmate was left with 90 centimeters (35 inches) to himself. We had to take it in turns to stand up,” he said. “There was no possibility for (inmates) to engage in any activity.”

The crisis in Italy’s prisons is nothing new. As long ago as 1995, the New York Times published an article warning: “Bursting Population Overwhelms Italy’s Prisons.” That piece, written by Celestine Bohlen, noted for example that so many prisoners were housed in Milan’s San Vittorio facility that police were forced to relocate some 400 inmates elsewhere, some to as far away as the isle of Sardinia.

At that time, Italy had 54,000 prisoners in a system designed to hold only 29,000. After almost two decades the problem has only worsened. “The continuous increase in the jails overcrowding and the significant presence of foreign prisoners makes pursuing the rehabilitative aim of punishment extremely complex and often in vain,” Napolitano told the head of the Italian prison administration department....

Ornella Favero, director of Ristretti Orizzonti, said overcrowding could be relieved by providing a significant number of inmates, especially pre-trial detainees and non-violent drug offenders, access to noncustodial sanctions, including alternatives like fines, community service, house arrest and treatment for drug addiction. In Spain, Germany and France, more than 100,000 convicts are outside of prison walls – the corresponding figure in Italy is less than 20,000.

June 18, 2013 at 07:58 AM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference With overcrowded prisons and under court order, Italy is the California of Europe when it comes to punishment practices:


Not surprising if one reviews the story of Paula Cooper:

'Paula Cooper T-shirts Sell Like Mad from Madrid to Warsaw' [including Italy]

[from Rome] Pope John Paul II urged the United States to grant Cooper Clemency in 1987.
Cooper's plight did not receive much sympathy from residents of Gary, her hometown, or others in NW Indiana,
but she became a symbol for Roman Catholics and for some European groups, particularly
in Italy
, opposed to capital punishment. In March, an
Italian group presented a petition with 1 million signatures to United Nations officials ..

Paula Cooper T-shirts and buttons bearing the sad police mugshot of the woman are the rage from Madrid to Warsaw.

In 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that no one under that age of 16 at the time of the crime could be executed. Citing that case, the Indiana Supreme Court set aside Cooper's death sentence later in 1988, and ordered her to serve 60 years.

Mightn't these be the children of the Italian leaders of the 1980s?

Posted by: Adamakis | Jun 18, 2013 9:27:54 AM

Her "crime"?
Her crime was "unspeakably vicious" and premeditated, with pre-planning and a "look-out". Cooper .. knocked her
to the floor from behind, cut her arms and legs, then stabbed her in the chest and stomach 33 times.

According to testimony at Cooper's trial, the wounds were so deep that the knife shredded the carpet under Pelke`s body and
dented the floorboards underneath.
Paula Cooper and friends had entered the home of Ruth Pelke, a frail, 78-year-old Bible school teacher. .. under the pretense
that she wanted to learn more about the Bible, from the victim. Cooper, who brought the 12-inch knife along and
confessed to the stabbing.

According to authorities, Cooper attacked guards in the juvenile center after her arrest and had to be moved to the County
There, it was reported that she bragged about her crime and said she would do it again.

ChicagoTribune.com, 7/20/88, by Uli Schmetzer

Posted by: Adamakis | Jun 18, 2013 9:32:37 AM

ok, ok, it was a nasty crime, so what's your point and how the hell does a crime commited in the U.S. relate in any way to this story about Italian prisons???? Geez, some people must love to see their random ramblings in printed words online.

Posted by: spare me | Jun 18, 2013 4:47:26 PM

// "in jails in Milan and Vicenza, more than 60% of inmates are foreign, while in the mountain territories of Trentino Alto Adige and Valle d’Aosta, the proportion reaches nearly 70%" //
--- Open up and say "Hola" to liberalism, "Cheers" to your own culture, and "Ciao" to your public safety as well.
. .. .

// "At that time [1995], Italy had 54,000 prisoners in a system designed to hold only 29,000.. the problem has only worsened." //

--- How many are murderers who could/should be executed?

Posted by: Adamakis | Jun 18, 2013 5:36:20 PM

The point is: in Italy there's not death penalty.
And this makes the difference.

Posted by: Stefania | Jun 18, 2013 6:06:24 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB