‘Prison in the time of the Coronavirus’: the situation behind bars remains critical


Facebook was presented live this morning on XVI Antigone Report on the conditions of detention in Italy, entitled “The prison in the time of the coronavirus”. One of the data emerged is the one on the rate of contagion in prison, significantly higher than that of free society.

In addition to members of the association, the new head of the Department of Prison Administration was present Dino Petralia, on his first public release in the new role, the director general for the External Criminal Execution Lucia Castellano, the Undersecretary for Justice Andrea Giorgis and the National Guarantor of the rights of persons deprived of their liberty Mauro Palma, all of whom made significant contributions to the discussion in terms of prospective openness and system vision.

The effective crowding rate of Italian prisons, as stated in the Report, was at the beginning of the health emergency equal to 130.4%. Just under 15,000 people were imprisoned beyond the available beds. By 15 May 2020 the crowding rate had dropped to 112.2%.

The 8,551 fewer units in the prison population are due in part to home detention granted – 3,282 since the entry into force of the Cura Italia decree, tending to concern people convicted of non-serious crimes with less than 18 months to serve – and in part to a sharp drop in the number of entries, having the lockdown General decreased crimes and arrests.

Inmates at 41-bis 4 were released from prison (some returned to prison). In all of Italy there are 747 prisoners subjected to this regime, of which 390 with final conviction and 354 in pre-trial detention.

The situation in many prisons remains critical, such as, for example Latin (crowding rate of 179.2%), Taranto (187.6%) or Larino (194.7%). Even in the regions most affected by Covid-19 we find institutes like Como (161.4%), Pordenone (156.8%), Vigevano (148.7%), Busto Arsizio (148.3%) or Tolmezzo (148.3%) which still cause great concern.

The first cases of contagion in prison occurred in mid-March. There are currently 119 prisoners positive the virus, while there are 162 infections among staff. If we look at the total number of prisoners infected during these months, we see that the rate of contagion has been significantly higher than the external one. Here too the situation is very uneven. No infection occurred in most institutions, while a Verona 29 cases would have occurred and a turin 67, very high numbers when compared to the rest of the country.

During 2019 Antigone visited 98 penitentiary facilities. In only 59 of these, the presence of a doctor is guaranteed 24 hours a day. Again in the institutions visited, an average of 27.6% of the prisoners resulted in psychiatric therapy. But even on this the situation is not homogeneous: in Spoleto prison 97% of inmates were in therapy, 90% in Lucca, 86% in Vercelli. The presence of psychiatrists in these institutions was guaranteed on average for 7.4 hours per week for every 100 prisoners.

In 25 of the 98 prisons visited we found cells in which the three square meter per prisoner criterion was not met. In 45, or about half, there were cells without hot water to wash. In 52, well over 50%, there were cells without a shower, which forces prisoners to use common showers. In 8 institutions among those visited there were cells with the toilet in sight in the middle of the room instead of in a separate room. In 29 institutes there was reduced access to daylight and ventilation of the rooms, if not actually compromise, from the presence of screens to the windows.

The detained population is also getting older, another element of concern in the health emergency. At the end of 2009, less than 40% of those detained over the age of 40 were over 50% at the end of 2019. The percentage of those over 60 has more than doubled, going from 4.1 to 8.6%.

The data on the penalties imposed show how they are several longer compared to the European average, unhinging that prejudice not based on any data that would see Italy as a country with mild penalties. The law on drugs, in violation of which 32% of prisoners are in prison (the European average is 18%). In pre-trial detention, therefore presumed innocent, 33% of the total of prisoners: the European average is 10 percentage points lower.

The identikit of the typical prisoner shows us low schooling, low employment, low professional training. In 2019 53 prisoners took their lives while in the first months of 2020 there were 17. The rate is 8.7 suicide out of 10,000 inmates present, compared to a rate in the country of 0.65 suicides per 10,000 inhabitants.

Finally, the prison It’s expensive. In this 2020 it will cost us all three billion euros. Despite the investment on the reeducation the convict is unfortunately not the heart of the system (there are only 774 educators in total, that is, one educator for every 79 prisoners) each prisoner costs us 134.5 euros per day (taking into account the number of prisoners at the end of February). Given the rates of relapse, the social marginality and the scarce danger of so many people that we imprison – the management of drug addictions is worth for all – would not seem an excellent investment.

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