The disunited Europe of prisons and laws

Sergio D'Elia
Notizie radicali

ABSTRACT: The creation of a common juridical space in Europe does not involve the treaties and agreements concerning the struggle against terrorism, but should be based on the rights of the individual, which are already laid down in existing fundamental Charters. It is necessary to achieve a normalization of the penal rules of the various countries of the European community, adapting them to the highest level of humanity and juridical civilization. The problem of foreign prisoners and of the possibility of serving the sentence in the country of origin can be tackled at once, with the initiatives which are already being taken. The radicals could become the promoters of a "Manifesto of prisoners' rights" to be launched in the European Community, gathering adhesions and stimulating the prisoners' initiatives on it.
(Radical News N. 87 of 28 April 1988)

A few weeks ago, twenty Italian citizens, detained in the prison of Nice, sent a petition to their Parliament to urge the ratification of the "Convention for the transfer of convicted persons", an act which would simply enable them to serve the sentence in their own country. During the same time, twenty non-Italian citizens detained in the prison of Rebibbia would like to serve their penalty in the country where they have closer social and family ties, and thus overcome the difficulties and the diffidence which they encounter during their rehabilitation process.
The solution, ultimately, could be an "exchange of prisoners", because the problem is exactly the same. Five years ago, something in this sense had already been done: there is a Convention of the Council of Europe, signed by about twenty European and non-European countries but ratified only by a handful of them, which would enable the execution of foreign penal sentences.
Between 15 and 20% of prisoners held in the prisons of Europe are foreigners: they are not citizens of the State that detains them and yet they are detained according to the laws of the State, sentenced as citizens and treated as foreigners, equal to all others from the point of view of the crimes and the penalties but different as regards the possible alternatives to the crime and the penalty.
Many non-Italian prisoners (from Colombia, Chile, Argentina, Yugoslavia, one Tamil and an Afghan) detained in the prison of Rebibbia have joined the radical party, have promoted a meeting to be held in Rome on 19 and 20 May and a petition to the European Parliament which is open for signature to all prisoners of the prisons of Europe.
To safeguard themselves from discriminations and prejudice, expulsions and isolation, many prisoners (most of them foreigners) have decided to join the only party in the world that has chosen the transnational way in order to better uphold the right to life and the life of rights.
After the Congress of Bologna, and thanks to the objectives decided by the motion, we can finally conceive a initiative for justice, in particular from the point of view of penal justice, to be carried out on a European scale, the only dimension in which it is possible to conceive a solution, intervening and normalizing by analogy and contiguity; and in any case, out of a duty to interfere in other people's problems when these have tragic effects on the rule of law and on the lives of all.
In the face of the massive flow of immigrants from the poorest regions of the world, who press at the borders of the West out of misery, and often cross them clandestinely (but one could think: to collect, illegally at times, at least part of the credit accumulated and unrecognized in centuries of neglect and unequal exchange between North and South of the world), it is predictable for there to be an impulse of order, defence of our own security and wealth; but it is also wrong and extremely unfair.
It is truly difficult not to identify the only real and serious threat for our society in the policy of starvation caused by the absence of a world government of the resources and of the defences, or in a policy of integration and acceptance out of generosity of the government and permissiveness of the law.
Moreover, an idea of free circulation of people which is not immediately accepted and extended in a transnational sense is inconceivable and oppressing, all the more between areas of mutual influence and cooperation, especially in Europe, where in 1992 all barriers to the free circulation of wares and capitals should be removed. Thus, as far as the treatment of the prisoners is concerned, it is first of all necessary to correctly conceive the work of re-education and re-socialization in a transnational sense and on a supranational level, and therefore to carry it out fully during the time and in the place where the penalty is served.
Today we know a European juridical space structured as a series of conventions and agreements on terrorism, extradition, surveillance of convicted people, validity of the repressive judgments: a field which is cultivated with aggressive methods and in small parts, therefore mostly sterile as far as social defence and security are concerned - the only criteria of justice adopted by the national parties and governments. But there is also another space, though shaped on the Charter, on the fundamental Charters of the rights of man: a juridical space, another Europe, closer to the radicals and closer to the citizens. The Europe of the Parliament directly elected and with constituent powers, and the Europe of human and civil rights: this is the program and the project of the radical party, the commitment and the "political service" we offer in Europe to all, free citizens and detained citizens.
With the contribution of the prisoners of the prisons of the Community and the necessary coordination of a number of comrades "free" to travel Europe, we can first of all draft and launch a "Manifesto of the rights of the prisoners" of the European Community, and therefore start collecting signatures for a petition to submit to the European Parliament and establish a deadline to carry out a nonviolent campaign in the prisons of Europe.
On a number of specific objectives - two or three - we will collect signatures and involve the competences of the E.C. institutions, which, while deprived at the current state of any legislative, jurisdictional and governmental power proper, do possess a series of means of intervention, pressure and address vis-à-vis the member States, through the jurisprudence of the Court of Justice, the resolutions of the European Parliament, the censures and the directives of the E.E.C.
In this political action, we appeal to the recognition decided by the Treaties of Rome of 1957 of a series of fundamental rights that are "instrumental" in achieving the common market, in particular the right to free circulation and the right not to be discriminated on grounds of nationality or sex. According to such community principles, it is perhaps possible to request the respect of a series of particular civil rights, including the rights of the prisoners, as European citizens.
In fact, the presence or absence of this or that rule in this or that regulation of the countries of the Community challenges both the right not to be discriminated and the right to free circulation: it therefore raises the need to normalize the regulations of the various countries, adapting them - in our request - to the highest level of humanity and juridical civilization. It is unfair for a prisoner, who is a European citizen, to be submitted to a regulation which provides for the death penalty, life sentence or a thirty-year sentence, while another prisoner, equally a European citizen, is subjected to another regulation which has already abolished the death penalty, does not provide for life sentence and establishes a maximum limit of fifteen years.
It is equally unfair for many European countries to provide for release on probation after the prisoner has served half the sentence, whereas in other regulations this benefit doesn't even exist.
Similarly, it is not fair that in Italy, for example, the right to vote for prisoners convicted to more than five years is not guarantied, whereas in other countries of the Community such right is guarantied; the same applies for the right to elect representatives at the European Parliament, who also represent those Italian citizens who are deprived of the right to express a representation. Lastly, it is unfair that certain regulations of countries that have signed the E.C. political treaties contain, on the eve of 1992, security measures and rule regarding expatriation which prevent free circulation not only at an E.C. level but even within the same country. We can organize nonviolent campaigns of the European prisoners, maybe also a hunger strike in the prisons of Europe for the abolition of life sentence, for half-term probation, for the right to vote.
In the meanwhile, with the "foreign" prisoners of Rebibbia, Nice and of Europe we will ask that the right not to be discriminated on the basis of nationality be guarantied, that the "Convention on transfer" be ratified to enable the return of the prisoners to their country, and that the security and police measures be re-examined in view of an acceptance in society of the condemning State.
Also for this, we need to conquer democratic institutions, civil laws and real powers, at least at a continental level. Failing such achievement, failing the reform and the government of Europe, there will be no guarantee, not even of the most elementary of the rights of citizens; there will be no justice and no safety not even in the richest of our countries. But without the radical party, without the transnational party, no attempt, not even a temptation, of Europe, of justice and safety will be conceivable.