​The Ongoing Reform of Italy's Penitentiary Code: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

The Italian penitentiary code dates back to 1975, and thus reflects outdated procedures and understandings of what is acceptable treatment in prisons. It's time for an update.

Where does this reform come from?

Notwithstanding the difficult times through which Italy (and Europe) is going, one good news is the decision of the Italian Parliament to reform the penitentiary code. The revision of the code is the latest step of a path of reforms that started after the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights on the Torreggiani case of 2013, when Italy was condemned for prison overcrowding.

Back in July 2017, after the Italian Parliament began formulating a delegating law to reform the penitentiary system, Liberties member Antigone presented 20 proposals to update the penal code. These proposals included the introduction of stricter limits on the use of solitary confinement, the formulation of a code of conduct for police officers and prison guards, enhancing the quality and use of alternative disciplinary measures, more educational and work opportunities, and the drafting of a dedicated penitentiary code for minors.

The good

Although a final decision on the reform bill has not been taken yet, its contents were published very recently, and it is possible to see it as a step forward from the legislation currently in force: the dignity of the person and their rights are put at the center, the European Prison Rules are referenced in the law - therefore incorporating them into Italian legislation - dynamic surveillance (which has been informally used in Italian prisons up to now) is finally formally recognised and regulated, new technologies for inmates' communication with the outside are taken into consideration, and the access to alternative measures is enhanced.

The bad

The downside of this reform is that some guarantees have been undermined justifying this intervention through the keyword “simplification”; moreover, at times, the echo of the old idea of “correctional” institution comes to the surface.

The ugly

Despite the positive takeaways, some areas of penal law are still being ignored. There is no movement to reform the right to a sexual life, the right to affectivity or the right religious freedom, nor is any attention being given to enhancing the specific situations of foreigners and women.

Antigone's comments

For these reasons, Antigone released a document commenting on the decree and sent it to the members of the Justice Commission of the Chamber of Deputies. The comments regard the parts of the delegating law that have not been taken in consideration, the reforms that have been made but that could have been pushed further, and the negative modifications of the penitentiary code.

"This is certainly a step forward from the previous penitentiary code of 43 years ago," said Patrizio Gonnella, president of Antigone. "We wish that this reform were even more courageous as not to miss the momentum and to have a long-lasting impact. For this reason, we ask to the government and to the Parliamentary Commissions to give attention to the missing parts of the delegating law (on the right to a sexual life, the right to affection, the rights of foreigners and women and on freedom of religion) and to release the content of the decree law regarding the new penitentiary code for minors."