Italian NGO calls on government to address overcrowded prisons

By Josephine Joly


Euronews (02.08.2021) – – Italy’s prisons face serious overcrowding problems, with 53,637 people occupying space for 47,000, according to the annual report of Associazione Antigone, an Italian NGO working to protect human rights.


Of the 189 jails across Italy, 117 of them exceed a 100% occupancy rate. Some prisons like one in Brescia reached a record 200%.


In June 2021, Italian prisons had a “real crowding rate” of 113%. The government claims there is enough space behind bars for inmates, and some 4,000 cells are constantly being repaired or renovated.


Since the start of 2021, there have been 18 suicides in Italian prisons, in addition to the 62 in 2020 (one for every 10,000 inmates), the highest number in recent years.


Prisoners have been complaining of torture and there have been allegations of beatings. Some claim the conditions behind bars have directly contributed to the suicides.


“The situation is very bad because the prison system is still partially in lockdown mode. The social activities are very limited, access of external staff, volunteers, etc, is still limited in most of the prisons. Contacts with the families are limited, and this has been going on obviously since the start of the pandemic, so the situation is very heavy on the prisoners,” Alessio Scandurra, coordinator of Antigone’s Observatory on prison conditions, told Euronews.


Associazione Antigone is calling on the government to address this overcrowding problem by reducing the length of criminal proceedings, as people in pre-trial detention are over-represented in Italy’s prisons.


“We also have an over-representation of people detained for drug offences and in drug abusers, compared to other European countries. So a different approach to drugs in the legislation and in police practises, but also in social policies, could make a difference in prison overcrowding,” Scandurra added.


Lack of fresh and drinking water, Scandurra said, could be exacerbate problems during the summer months.



Prison guards arrested


A video showing guards brutally beating inmates at a jail near Naples last year was released in June, pushing Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi to seek for the prison’s system to be reformed.


Fifty-two prison guards have since been arrested. But according to Scandurra, some of the guards seen on the video are not under investigation as it was impossible to identify them due to face masks and helmets.


“We need to introduce identification numbers for police officers. That will be very important, for instance, in cases like this one,” he said.


“Other measures, like the quality and the efficiency of the video recording system that proved to be so important at the Santa Maria Capua Vetere prison, are not always there in many other facilities. We have ongoing investigations of similar cases, in the similar period, for the same reason. But there was no video recording. Either the prison was not equipped or the system wasn’t working. And therefore we don’t have this very important evidence.”


Photo credits:  Piero Cruciatti / AFP