EU Watch

Italian Government's Plan Is a Vendetta Without Justice

The Five Star Movement-Lega government contract contains a number of red flags, warns Giuseppe Mosconi, professor of sociology of law and president of Antigone Veneto.

by Andrea Li

At first reading, Chapter 12 of the government plan (or "government contract," as they call it) of the Five Star Movement-Lega coalition seems to highlight two important points with regard to justice: the rationale according to which more serious and "certain" penalties pave the way for better security measures; and the need for harsher prison conditions, as everyone who commits a crime deserves to be punished.

Harsher and "certain" penalties

Harsher penalties are invoked not only for widespread minor offenses (theft, mugging, fraud, robbery) that cause social alarm, but also for crimes, such as sexual offenses and environmental offenses, whose regulation through the criminal justice system has been contested as ineffective by the victims themselves; these are, in fact, crimes that derive by problems that should be addressed with more appropriate mechanisms.

But, above all, a distorted interpretation of the principle of the "certainty of punishment" has led the government to "reform those provisions issued during the former legislature aimed solely at lowering the number of people involved in penal trials and in penitentiary institutes, which impacts negatively on collective security."

The chapter goes on with an uncertain and approximate list, which has the objective to affirm the complete expiation of the penalty in prison without any form of alternatives to detention or shortenings.

The concept is clarified a few paragraphs below, where in order to guarantee "greater security and protection for citizens," the necessity to "rewrite the penitentiary law" is pointed out.

In particular, the "review in a systematic and organic fashion of the system of benefits," in order to "guarantee the effectivity of the principle of re-education of the penalty."

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Only custodial sentences

Hence, the "government contract" is invoking the cancellation of all the measures (that as a matter of fact proved to be completely ineffective, as the number of people in prisons continues to grow) that have been recently introduced in order to solve the issue of prison overcrowding, for which Italy was condemned by the European Court of Human Rights for inhuman and degrading conditions of imprisonment.

However, it doesn't stop there; in fact, the program also wishes the cancellation of alternative measures to detention that were already introduced back in 1975 with the objective of giving people the possibility to reintegrate into the society, knowing that custodial sentences are not only insufficient but also counterproductive to fulfill this aim.

Indeed, in the last decades, in Italy, recidivism has collapsed, for people who benefit from alternative measures to detention, with the obvious result of greater security, against 70% of recidivism rate for people who spend their sentence in prison till the very last day.

Hence, our "innovators," in contrast to previous evidence and knowledge, wish to erase more than 40 years of reforms in this field, and are only anxious to stir the public opinion with clichés in order to enhance consensus.

However, if it is obvious that such reforms will lead to a dramatic increase of detainees causing again prison overcrowding, there is a remedy to this: building new prisons and ignoring that all the space in the facilities is filled quickly according to the ‘sponge effect’.

More prisons and harsher detention conditions

Not only an increased number of prisons, but above all harsher conditions in prisons, starting from the cancellation of the open regime of "dynamic surveillance," which has opened spaces for sociality and enhanced the implementation of training activities, discouraging passive and regressive attitudes, such as lying all day in bed in the prison cell, taking a huge amount of psychotropic drugs, and self-harm.

Additionally, the closure of the sections of "attenuated custody" (those that allow drug addicted inmates to undertake therapeutic recovery treatments); an even harsher and irreversible regime of 41bis for the most serious crimes, which would overlook the principle of rehabilitation that each prisoner is lawfully entitled to.

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Children under 14 are still criminals

But the "bitterness" is tasted the most in two important points: the lowering of the age of criminal responsibility under 14, and prolonging the incarceration time for juveniles.

This means canceling 30 years of reforms, theoretical elaborations and successful experimental practices.

Widening self-defense

The gran finale placed at the beginning of the chapter is the extension of the "right to self-defense" aimed at removing the "elements of uncertainty", which refer to the principle of proportionality between defense and offense.

To say that if a stranger dares to come in my yard, I am entitled to shoot him (meaning that the principle of ownership clearly out-values a human life) is tantamount to promoting a culture that supports vengeance, a kind of justice that takes the form of a vendetta of the state, the idea that the private individual can dispense justice by himself, and the faith, which ought to be ascertained, in the potential deterrent of the criminal justice system.

One wonders how a government that calls himself "for change" and protecting the citizens affected and impoverished by previous policies, can conceive to expose the most vulnerable and deprived people in the society to such an unlawful treatment typical of a pre-modern society.

If the lawyer Giuseppe Conte is the defender of all Italian people, and if President Mattarella reiterates the importance of the Constitution, they ought to show it, starting with focusing on the most marginal communities. This has to be a good opportunity for all people to rethink the meanings and values associated with a desired outcome.

Article published in Italian for the first time on the newspaper "Il mattino di Padova" on 14 June 2018 and translated by Andrea Li.

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