On January 9, 2013, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg fined Italy €100,000 for its inhuman living conditions for prisoners, ordering the government to implement changes within a year. The verdict was given on a case brought to court in 2009 by seven prisoners, each of whom was sharing 9 square meters with two other individuals (roughly, 3 square meters per person).
This ruling is far from the first attempt to shine a spotlight on the very poor conditions of prison inmates, who face violence and abuse in overcrowded and under-staffed prisons.
The Minister of Justice, Paola Severino, acknowledged the shocking situation of Italian prisons earlier in 2012, and pushed for justice reforms which have, however, not been adopted. In 2006, the Prodi Government did pass an emergency law granting amnesty to thousands of inmates in an attempt to deal with prison overcrowding; however, this was a short-term measure whose effects did not last long, and which did very little at all to address the problem’s structural causes. Meanwhile, Article 27 of the Constitution of the Italian Republic – stating that detention should have a educational aim – seems to be a dead letter.
Dozens of prisoners and other detainees die every year, sometimes due to lack of care and sometimes in more suspicious circumstances. Examples include Federico Aldrovandi (an 18-year old young man beaten to death by police in Ferrara on September 25, 2005), Stefano Cucchi (who died in a hospital on September 15, 2009, a week after his arrest, and whose body showed signs of violence), and Giuseppe Uva (a 43-year old artisan who died in mysterious circumstances at a police station in Varese on June 15, 2008, after being held in custody for drunkenness, and who could have endured beating and abuse according to forensic reconstructions). These cases are only the tip of the iceberg, though, in comparison with the majority of cases that never gain media attention.
We have collected a list of useful information sources on the topic, both in Italian and in other languages.
Info-graphics, data, tables
[en] The Guardian
A very good infographic on the deaths of Italian prisoners
The Guardian-How did 1000 prisoners die?
[en] BBC: World Prisons Population
A data sheet comparing different detention systems across the world
BBC: Word Prisons Population
[it] Ristretti.it: When Prisons Kill
How many people have died in the Italian prison system since 2001? The Italian association Ristretti Orizzonti has tried to count them. Here are the appalling statistics.
Morire di carcere
[it] Osservatorio Antigone
The Antigone association issues an annual report on the detention conditions in Italy, based on the principle that conviction should have an educational goal (Constitution of the Republic, Article 27). The analysis combines surveys and other quantitative work. A report on juvenile prisons has recently been compiled, adding to the reports already available on facilities for adult prisoners.
The IX Annual report, covering the 2012 survey, is now available at:
IX Annual Report (2012)
[it] Fuori Luogo
Fuori Luogo is the magazine of “Forum Droghe,” a consulting association promoting a non-prohibitionist attitude toward drugs and disease control. Forum Droghe’s action is inspired by a number of guiding principles, such as reduction of harmful consequences, and the social inclusion of marginalized individuals. Forum Droghe has been in existence since 1995 and is affiliated to the International Drug Policy Consortium, a network of 94 NGOs and associations specializing in the subject of drugs.
[it] Ristretti Orizzonti
Ristretti.it and Ristretti.org are the online magazines of “Ristretti Orizzonti,” an association based on the Padua chapter of the volunteer association Granello di Senape. Both magazines promote awareness of the human conditions of prison inmates, including a documentation centre, an archive, on- and offline publications, and services such as free legal assistance. Their websites include important research and resources on the number of deaths in Italian prisons, the relation between drug abuse and conviction, the relation between immigration and detention, and much more.
Press coverage of the European Court of Human Rights verdict
[en] Prison Watch Europe
EU Court Fines Italy for Prison Overcrowding
[fr] Le Petit Journal
Les Prisons Italiennes Jugées Inhumaines
EU Parliamentary Questions about Italian prisons
Further press coverage
In this section, we have included additional sources available in English on some notable cases of police violence in Italy, such as the Aldrovandi case (2005).
Teenager Beaten To Death By Police in Ferrara?
Italian Judges Uphold Sentence In Aldrovandi Case
[en] The Italianist
Police accountability in Italy