EU Watch

​Prisons in Italy Got More Use in 2017, Especially for Pre-Trial Detention

A significant rise in the use detention has led to overcrowding in Italian prisons.

by Federica Brioschi

More and more detainees

Last year saw a significant increase in the rate of imprisonment in Italy, following several years of decline. In the last 12 months, the number of detainees has grown by about 3,000, and the overcrowding rate reached 115% by the end of 2017 - up from 108% at the close of 2016.

The number of people in pre-trial detention also increased, reaching 35%, while at the end of December 2016 it was around 34.7%. Even if this number remains below the one registered in 2009, when it was 37%, the comparison with the rest of Europe is staggering: the European average for percentage of detainees in pre-trial detention is 22%.

The percentage of non-Italian prisoners remained stable around 34.2%, as did the percentage of pre-trial foreign detainees, which is about 41%.

"An important fact to underline," explains Patrizio Gonnella, the president of Liberties member Antigone, "is that, notwithstanding the environment of intolerance and hatred that exists in Italy today, we see a reduction in the percentage of the number of foreigners imprisoned in Italian prisons as compared to 10 year ago."

The number of detained mothers who live with their children in prison is also growing, despite the new protected house programme that began last year in Rome. The problem of mothers in prison with their children seems to lack a permanent solution, even though the overall number, in absolute terms, remains low: at the end of 2106, Italian prisons housed 34 mothers living with 37 children; today, are 50 mothers and 58 children.

Data from Antigone's Observatory

It is important to highlight the findings of Antigone’s Observatory on Prison Conditions. Visits to 78 Italian prisons show that in seven of them (9%), cells are without heating, while 36 of them (46%) lack hot water and four of them (5%) offer no separation barrier of any kind between the toilet and the rest of the cell. Thirty-one of them (40%) lack a dedicated director, and 37 of them (47%) offer no vocational training courses. Four prisons cannot guarantee the minimum three square meters of cell space per detainee that is required by law.

"It has been a year of both light and new shadows for the Italian penitentiary system,” adds Gonnella. “On the one hand, we are waiting for reform of the penitentiary system, which we hope will give more attention to the dignity of both adult and minor detainees and will enhance the use of alternatives to detention. On the other hand, there are the shadows: the overcrowding rate is on the rise and if measures are not taken in order to control it, we could end up in the same situation that led to the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in 2013 for inhuman and degrading treatment in prisons."
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