Too little, too late:The European Parliament delegation to Italy on the situation of prisons condemns Italy for doing too little to address the structural problems of its penitentiary system.

Too little, too late:The European Parliament delegation to Italy on the situation of prisons condemns Italy for doing too little to address the structural problems of its penitentiary system.

 On April 10th 2014 the LIBE Committee discussed the results of the delegation to Italy on the situation of prisons.

A delegation composed of four members, Juan Fernando López Aguilar (S&D), Frank Engel (EPP), Kinga Göncz (S&D) and Salvatore Iacolino (EPP) visited the prisons facilities of Rebibbia in Rome and Poggioreale in Naples from the 26th until the 28th March.

Head of the delegation Chairman of Libe Committee Juan Fernando López Aguilar inaugurated the debate session and presented the draft Report and its results.

 On January 18th 2013 the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) sentenced Italy in the case “Torreggiani and Others v. Italy” for not complying with Article 3 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedom (ECHR) prohibiting torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

 The Court’s ruling condemned Italy due to the “structural and systemic problems” of its penitentiary system: according to the Court overcrowding and poor living conditions in prisons can constitute elements of inhuman and degrading treatment, and thus urged Italy to put in place a set of effective measures to ensure the compliance with Article 3 of the Convention by the 28th May 2014.

 It is noteworthy to mention that the Italian Constitution itself provides the legal framework that guarantees the fundamental rights of inmates. Article 27 states: “Punishment shall not consist of treatments against the sense of humanity and shall be aimed at the re-education of the sentenced person”

 However, numbers show a gloomier picture: according to the Council of Europe, Italy stands third in the list of the most overcrowded prison systems with 147 detainees for every 100 available places. Doing worse are only Serbia and Greece.

 According to the Italian authorities the whole penitentiary system have a capacity to accommodate approximately 48 000 detainees whereas the actual number of prisoners amounts to approximately 60 000 and 65 000 at the time of the ECtHR ruling.

 Further staggering figures: of the total population of detainees 29 000 are foreign nationals, 38% are detained for drug-related crimes, 40 % are in pre-trial detention or are convicted without a final sentence, the highest ratio in the EU.

 Even though both Rebibbia and Poggioreale prison facilities suffer from overcrowding, what really struck the delegation was the situation of Poggioreale and the living conditions of its prisoners: “I was deeply moved and appalled by the conditions of Poggioreale”, stated the chair of the delegation and of the LIBE committee Mr. Aguilar.

 2 354 detainees “hosted” in a prison with a total capacity of 1 400, up to 12 persons in each cell spending 22 hours behind bars, buildings without heating and warm water, cold food, poor health care hygienic conditions, frequent suicide attempts and one just before the arrival of the delegation and 29 suicides among the penitentiary staff in the last three years.

The delegation was also informed of the alleged existence of the so called “cell zero” where prisoners would be beaten by the Police, an issue currently under judicial investigation.

 Mauro Palma, former chair of the European Committee against torture and current chair of the “Commissione ministeriale per gli interventi in materia penitenziaria”, a special ministerial committee established after the ECtHR ruling against Italy, presented the initiatives taken by Italy to comply with the Court’s ruling and international law standards on human dignity.

A new independent authority (National Ombudsman) with the role of monitoring and supervising prisons facilities” (operational by the end of May) and a system of non custodial measures are the steps Italy is taking to comply with the measures indicated by the ECtHR.

Chair of delegation Mr. Aguilar criticized the Italian Government and the lack of political commitment to renew existing facilities while prison such as Poggioreale date back to more than one hundred years ago (Poggioreale was built in 1908) .“A prison system of the last century is incompatible with current penitentiary standards”, he caustically stated with reference to the Neapolitan prison whose poor conditions reminded him of a “19th century literature novel”.

 A further source of controversy is the inexistence of a crime such as “torture” in the Italian Penal Code even if a Constitutional provision (article 13) explicitly prohibits it. As a result, violence against prisoners is only punishable as an “ordinary crime” like bodily harm.

To address the issue the Italian Senate voted on March 5th 2014 a draft law the for the introduction of a separate crime of torture in the Penal Code. However its amendments to the original text have considerably narrowed the scope of the original draft: crime of torture is introduced as an “ordinary crime” that could be committed by anyone whereas the UN Convention Against Torture (ratified by Italy in 1989) rules that the committing of torture by public officers should be a constitutive element of the crime and not a merely aggravating factor.

 In June 2014 the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe will evaluate the compliance of Italy with the ECtHR sentence: the critical points raised by the LIBE evaluation report are likely to anticipate a negative assessment by the Council of Europe.

 Time is running out and Italy remains at the starting blocks.


Ermes Gallo

 To know more:

      – .Draft Report of LIBE delegation to Italy on the situation of prisons: EN

      -. Background information for the LIBE delegation to Italy: EN

      -. European Court of Human Rights, Torreggiani sentence: FR / IT


Adeline Silva Pereira

Après avoir effectué la deuxième année du master Sécurité Globale analyste politique trilingue à l'Université de Bordeaux, j'effectue un stage au sein d'EU Logos afin de pouvoir mettre en pratique mes compétences d'analyste concernant l'actualité européenne sur la défense, la sécurité et plus largement la coopération judiciaire et policière.

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