Behind the UNESCO sites and steep history of Italy lies the shady, illicit workings of the mafias, who have been miraculously operating since the 19th Century. When caught, they end up behind bars among the approximately 55,600 prisoners in the country. If you have ever wondered about life in an Italian prison cell, you have come to the right place.
San Vittore Prison in Milan, Italy (Credits: Roberto Cavaliere)
Food In Italy Prison
Per day, each adult inmate and each minor inmate receive 3 meals and 4 meals respectively. The menus typically include freshly harvested fruits such as cherries and figs and vegetables such as aubergines and tomatoes. It is also believed that the adult prisoners would receive a bottle of around 250 ml of wine.
Do the prisoners get to at least feast on pizzas and pasta during mealtimes? Or perhaps an occasional tiramisu or panna cotta as a reward for good behavior?
Well, although the answer to these questions is a no, the meals served in prisons are not that bad, especially because of their far greater nutritious profile. The health records of every prisoner are taken into account in the preparation of their repast. For instance, those with diabetes would be given only medically authorized dishes. Not only that, but Italian prison chefs also factor in the prisoners’ religious beliefs, such as how they would give the Muslims only Halal-certified meals. Nonetheless, food might be on the colder, less flavorsome side at times.
One special prison that has its restaurant whipping up a tasty spread is located in Volterra, near Pisa. These Fortezza Medicea restaurants are open to the public, though making reservations can be a pain in the neck. To even be considered for a reservation necessitates a pass of a two-month background that you have to first go for. Still, it is worth the effort to see the tenacity displayed by convicts who seek to hone their culinary as well as soft skills while running the restaurant.
Education In Italy Prison
To ensure that the prisoners stay mentally active and up-to-date with global happenings, thousands of them have been enrolled in literacy and professional training courses, most of which are overseen by Italy’s Department of Education. Additional mentorship by volunteers is typical as well.
Use of local televisions in prison education in Bologna, Italy (Credits: European Prison Education Association)
What is even more impressive is that almost every Italian prison is equipped with a library. Despite the dilapidated nature of some of these libraries, prisoners can have a place to study and delve into the amalgamation of knowledge that greets them in the form of books. Although the books are typically in Arabic and Slavic, more and more books are beginning to have other languages to cater to a wider inmate audience.
On another note, there is a huge incentive for, namely, Calabrian prisoners to turn into bookworms. That is, each book they read during their imprisonment knocks off their sentences by 3 days, and for each prisoner, a limit of 48 days off per year applies just for reading books. This ingenious idea was coined by Mario Caliguiri, a cultural chief of the regional council. If the government ends up approving the policy, it will be introduced to the entire nation.
Still, there are a few conditions to qualify for this scheme, such as how each book must hold more than 400 pages or how the prisoner must have served at least 6 months. Another unfortunate condition is that the books can neither be picture books nor comic books; understandably so as they do not effectively exercise the mind as much as the regular wordy type.
Overcrowding In Italy Prison
Although the Italian government has claimed that there is adequate room for inmates, mountains of evidence have proven otherwise.
Credits: Business Insider
Based on the yearly report by an Italian NGO striving for human rights protection, the Associazione Antigone, Italy's prisons are overwhelmingly cramped with 53,637 people occupying a space meant for around 7,000 fewer people. Of all the jails in the country, around 62 % of them exceed the maximum occupancy limit, some of which have hit 200 %, such as the one in Brescia.
The Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment of the Council of Europe (CPT) has also confirmed that overcrowding remains a serious endemic in Italian prisons.
To address this issue, the NGO has put pressure on Rome authorities to curtail the duration of criminal proceedings, especially since there is an “over-representation of people detained for drug offenses, compared to other European countries”, as quoted by Alessio Scandurra who coordinates the NGO’s observatory on prison conditions. The CPT has also pressured Italian authorities to ensure that all prisoners in multi-occupancy cells live in the recommended space size of at least 4m2 per inmate.
Sanitation In Italy Prison
Due to overcrowding, hygiene conditions are another common problem in Italian cells.
Credits: Friedrich Naumann Foundation
Prisoners are expected to clean their cells with the tools that they would be supplied with, as the cells might not be cleaned before their admission. Failure to keep the cell clean has landed them in hot soup. Unfortunately, the dearth of funds has led to a shortage of cleaning tools for the prisoners to sanitize their surroundings.
Even personal hygiene products such as toilet paper tend to be lacking. Despite a law passed in 2000, stating that there should be a shower in every cell so that prisoners can shower whenever they feel unsanitary, this is still a rarity. In many prisons, restructuring has not been planned to ensure that this law is properly effectuated. Consequently, prisoners sometimes take only two or three showers weekly.
High Suicide Rates In Italy Prison
1 in every 10,000 suicides behind bars has been reported in recent years. The mental deterioration has taken a turn for the worst, as prisoners lament about the daily torments they tend to be subjected to.
For example, beatings are allegedly common in Italian jails. In June 2020, a video made the rounds on social media, showing 52 guards viciously slapping, kicking, and beating inmates with batons at a prison near Naples.
Besides physical abuse, prisoners in Italy often have very limited social or bonding activities outside their cells. This social isolation is amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic which has further restricted visits from their family and friends, and even volunteers.
Inmates revolting after Italian prisons impose visitor restrictions due to COVID-19 concerns (Credits: ABC News)
Light seems to be at the end of the tunnel with ongoing developments. In response to the Naples incident, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has pushed for prison system reformations. Additionally, Italy's justice minister Marta Cartabia has requested a report on prison suicides from the country's department of penitentiary administration (DAP), as he seeks to uncover the causes as well as ways to prevent more prison suicides. The DAP as a whole is currently working to prevent inmates from self-harming and has set aside 30% of its budget on prison buildings for interventions in treatment spaces.