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Minister says public not threatened by inmate releases

Electronic bracelets an alternative to incarceration

18 December, 18:19
Minister says public not threatened by inmate releases (By Stefania Fumo) (ANSA) - Rome, December 18 - Inmates released under the government's brand-new prison decree will not be a threat to public safety, Justice Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri said Wednesday.

Italy's cabinet on Tuesday approved a prison decree granting early release to 1,700 drug addicts and illegal immigrants. The former will be sent to rehab and the latter will be deported, the justice minister explained. "The early release concerns 1,700 inmates who were on their way out anyway. There is no threat to public safety. Addicts will not be allowed to roam around. They are leaving prison to be restored to health," Cancellieri told reporters.

The decree aims to reduce Italy's prison population by 3,000 inmates over the next two years in an effort to reduce chronic overcrowding and bring Italy's prison system up to EU standards. The measure comes after the European Court of Human Rights in January gave Italy a year to correct the "degrading and inhumane conditions" in its prisons and to pay 100,000 euros in damages to seven inmates who were detained in less than three square meters of space.

This was followed by a second ruling in May, when the same court ordered Italy to make dramatic improvements to its prison system and undo violations against prison rights.

Italy's prisons, which have come under fire from human rights groups, prison advocates and Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, currently hold 70,000 people, or 20,000 over capacity, Cancellieri has said.

Matters are worse than they appear on paper because numerous jails are closed for renovation, she added.

Both Cancellieri and Italian Premier Enrico Letta stressed that the new decree in no way allows for the early release of violent offenders or serving lengthy prison sentences. "This is not a pardon. No one is getting out of jail until the judge says so," Cancellieri said. The decree also calls for a national ombudsman for prisoners' rights, and the use of electronic bracelets for those under house arrest. This is in line with the government's stated intention of finding alternatives to imprisonment, including rehabilitation treatment for drug addicts and alcoholics and expanded parole options for a range of non-violent crimes.

With 147 inmates for every 100 beds, Italy's jails are the third most overcrowded in Europe behind Serbia and Greece, according to Council of Europe data.

Italy is also third for the number of inmates awaiting trial, after Ukraine and Turkey.

As many as one third of prison inmates are at high risk of developing a mental illness due to prison conditions, Italian psychiatrists told a conference in Rome earlier this year.

About 20,000 of the 70,000 inmates in Italian prisons have developed psychosis, depression, severe anxiety, and bipolar disorder, they said.

Prison inmates are nine times more likely to attempt suicide than in the general Italian population - and that rate is quickly climbing.

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