Prime Minister Mario Draghi promised reform of Italy’s overcrowded and understaffed prison service on Wednesday. This follows publication of a video showing guards beating inmates in a jail near Naples.
At least 12 prisoners died when riots broke out in jails across Italy in March last year. Inmates reacted to overcrowding and curbs on family visits amid rising coronavirus infections.
The beatings took place in reprisal for those riots at Santa Maria Capua Vetere prison over a year ago. However, it only came to light when the newspaper Domani published the brutal images last month.
The video filmed at Santa Maria Capua Vetere on April 6 2020, showed prisoners forced to walk down corridors with their hands on their heads or behind their backs as guards kicked, punched and repeatedly hit them with truncheons.
The government’s response
“What we saw deeply shocked the conscience of Italians,” Draghi told reporters after visiting the prison with Justice Minister Marta Cartabia.
“The investigations in progress will establish individual responsibilities, but the collective responsibility lies with a system that must be reformed,” Draghi said. He added that Cartabia was working on a series of measures.
“The government has no intention of forgetting,” he said.
Cartabia said “It’s not enough to condemn what happened, we have to remove the causes”. She said the government intended to hire more prison staff, spend more money to train them, make more use of alternative punishments to prison, and build eight new jail blocks. One of those blocks will be at Santa Maria Capua Vetere.
Reform of prison service a long time coming
Draghi said the European Court of Human Rights twice condemned Italy over its overcrowded prisons. They currently hold around 61,250 inmates, which is about 10,000 more than they were built to accommodate.
In 2014, Italy made its first attempt to reform its prisons after the European Court of Human Rights condemned Italy for the “chronic malfunctioning of its penitentiary system”.
The court made the condemnation after authorities discovered inmates’ dismal living conditions. Some prisoners in Italy had only three square metres of living space. This was a blatant violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
However, a change of government cancelled the overall reform in 2018. The only part of the reform which came into force was the Juvenile Justice reform.