"Ferragosto 2009 in carcere" an Monitoring Initiative by Radicali Italiani

 Since their first presence in the Italian Parliament in 1976, members of the Radical Party have always dedicated particular attention to the national prison system denouncing the violations of Constitutional norms, the poor quality of the detention facilities as well as the living and working conditions of both inmates and the penitentiary police. For years Radicals have visited jails all over the country meeting common criminals, politicians as well as non-citizens hearing their stories and activating, wherever possible, legal mechanisms to better their living conditions but also to reform laws that were generating crimes, such as for instance those designed to 'control' narcotic substances or to 'regulate' migrating flows.


Over the years, Italy has seen different types of provisions adopted to face a dramatic prison situation, with pardons ('indulto', art. 174 of the national penal code, a measure that extinguishes the penalty but does not cancel the crime) granted to thousands of people, convicted for minor crimes, used as a short term solution to the real problem: the country's administration of justice. In fact, over the last 10 years, the European Court on Human Rights has issued sentences daily denouncing the unacceptable length of Italy's civil and criminal trials, and the non application of national laws that would provide alternative penalties to detention.
At the end of a major public, political and parliamentary mobilization promoted by Mr. Marco Pannella, MEP, Radical Party founder, that saw the participation of several senior politicians among whom Francesco Cossiga, and Giorgio Napolitano, former and current Presidents of the Republic, on 29 July 2006, an 'indulto' was adopted by Parliament (a majority of 2/3 is needed in both Chambers) freeing individuals that had committed crimes up to 2 May 2006, and had not received a conviction superior to three years in jail or and administrative sentence beyond 10,000 Euros. The measure interested some 25,000 our of some 62,000 incarcerated ad that time. At three years of the 2006 'indulto' the number of inmates had reached the level of the pre-pardon situation.
To address this potentially explosive situation, in July 2009, Ms. Rita Bernardini, MP (Radical delegation within the Democratic Party Group) member of the Judiciary Committee of the Chamber of Deputies launched the initiative "Ferragosto 2009 in Carcere" to inspect all penitentiaries in Italy. The proposal was immediately endorsed by all political groups in Parliament. During the Prison week-end visit 14-16 August 2009, 167 MPs, Senators, Regional Councilors, as well as Rights Advocates for inmates visited 186 out of 217 penitentiary centers throughout Italy. Visits included also facilities for juveniles as well as legal psychiatric hospitals. It was the most massive inspection ever carried out in the country since the Republic was established. The inspections made possible to reconcile statistical data collected through questionnaires with reality on the ground as every visitor was an eyewitness. Participants freely interviewed prisoners themselves as private individuals, they also asked questions to Directors, Commanders, Agents, Educators, Psychologists, Social Assistants and Social Workers who are faced with the daily realities of the prison system. 
Results of the questionnaires (http://www.radicali.it/italia_carceri.php) reveal important statistical, data which can be used for decisions to bring back the prison system within the legal frame of the Constitution.
Important results to underline: 
-1.        There is a deficit of around 8.000 agents (out of a total of 42.118 agents allocated to 217 detention units, only 34.111 are actually in service), some of them are employed to transferring individuals to hearings in Courts. This scarcity is most evident in Northern Italy;
.        There are only 684 Educators and 352 Psychologists;
.        There is an “overcrowding” of detainees, 63.211 individuals are detained against a regular capacity of only 41.351 creating an excess of 21.860. About 95.7% of detainees are men and 4.3% are women;
.        There are 71 children together with their mothers, who are imprisoned; oftentimes they have no possibility of leaving the prison, not even for a few hours, nor can they take advantage of equipped structures for a nursery;
.        35.6% of detainees are non-Italians; the majority of non-citizens is based in the North of the country and the islands where they are transferred because of the overcrowding in other regions. This increases the loss of contacts with their relatives;
.        25% are considered to be drug problematic users;
.        3.4% are under rehabilitation programs, methadone, subotex etc.;
.        2% are HIV positive;
.        only 20% are working;
.        less than a half of all detainees (30.619 out of a total of 63.211) have a final sentence, while the remaining 31.109 are awaiting for a final judgment (15.363 are indicted, 10.381 are appealing, and 5.251 are seeking for a recourse before the Cour de Cassation.
In most cases, the overcrowding has transformed spaces destined for various treatments and for socializing (which were also reduced in view of the scarcity of agents), into cells, with small bunk beds almost reaching the ceiling, and in some cases, due to the lack of infrastructures, mattresses are laid on the floor under the last bed. In some facilities, inmates have to take turns to sleep.
Despite a specific law adopted some 10 years ago, in most prisons there are no showers in the cells, inmates take turns to shower, and over the summer in some penitentiaries they are not granted daily; in other facilities the bathroom is in the open, right in the middle of the cell. Most prisons need structural renovations as well as ordinary maintenance.
In addition to what highlighted before, so-called horizontal cuts in the State budget have affected the quality of meals and the overall hygiene situation. 

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