Tech & Rights

First Official 'Gay Section' Opens in an Italian Prison

Although created in an effort to improve safety, segregated prison areas for homosexuals have many negative consequences.

by Dóra Görgei
The prison in the Italian town of Gorizia now officially has a section for homosexuals, although informal "gay sections" already exist in penitentiaries all over the country. But is that really a solution?

Homosexuals in prisons are often exposed to discrimination and violence. Sexual violence behind bars is unfortunately not uncommon, and homosexual prisoners are likely to become the subject of sexual abuse, although to what extent exactly it cannot be said, as there is no official data on the number of rape and other cases of sexual violence cases in Italian prisons.

Opening a homosexual area for detainees as a way to address the problem is not really a new phenomenon in Italy: in fact, several reserved areas were created in several Italian prisons a few years ago. There are no structured initiatives, but prison directors will use these areas to guarantee the safety of prisoners who are victims of violence because of their sexual orientation.

It is also common that the prisoners themselves, as the victims of marginalization and violence, ask the guards to move them into a restricted area, where their rights can be protected.

Protection or segregation?

The creation of protected prison sections is a response to the dangers mentioned above. However, a new problem arises with the creation of such areas: very often, these people will have to serve their sentences in harsher conditions.

In the case of the Gorizia prison, because of the shortage of the prison staff, the detainees of the area reserved for gay prisoners would be denied the opportunity to participate in rehabilitation activities. It is really important to control this situation and prevent it from turning into a total isolation within the prison.

As Arcigay national secretary Gabriele Piazzoni said, "This kind of measure can be used to help to solve a problem now, but it is not much use unless it is accompanied by a program to raise awareness on these issues. We must educate inmates to non-discrimination and the elimination of violent behavior."

Strict separation between heterosexual and homosexual inmates is alarmingly affecting the dignity of the latter, and that is why alternative solutions are needed to ensure the protection and the dignity of all detainees. Separated sections will not suffice.