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Italian House passes penal reform into law

Tackles crowded prisons, decriminalizes undocumented immigration

02 April, 17:26
Italian House passes penal reform into law (ANSA) - Rome, April 2 - The Italian House on Wednesday passed a major penal reform bill into law aimed at unclogging painfully overcrowded prison cells and decriminalizing undocumented immigration.

The vote was 332 in favour, 104 against and 22 abstentions.

The anti-immigrant Northern League voted against the measure as did the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, led by comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo. The law follows repeated pressure from the European Union to shape up Italy's prisons and penal system.

Last year the European Court of Human Rights gave Italy one year to institute reforms to eliminate inhumane prison conditions - a time period that ends May 27.

The new law makes house arrest or detention in a healthcare facility the primary form of incarceration for lesser crimes, and the default form of detention for sentences under three years.

The new law also decriminalizes a number of charges, including undocumented immigration. Violations currently punished by fine, such as the failure to make social-security payments, will no longer be deemed a crime. House arrest and decriminalization of undocumented immigration still require a government decree in order to go into effect, however. The new law also foresees other alternatives to 24-hour prison detention such as part-time incarceration, set for certain hours of the day or days of the week, and the possibility of early release with an electronic bracelet.

Sentences of community service are to flank house arrest. Hardened or professional criminals would not be eligible for the alternative measures.