Crime, but what type of punishment? Criminal law and the prison system in Italy

March 29, 2017
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In 2013, Italy was convicted by the European Court of Justice in Strasbourg for having violated Article 3 of the Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits states from subjecting individuals to inhuman and degrading treatment. The problem is both a legal and ethical one: some data show that living conditions within Italian prisons are disparaging and severely below acceptable standards.

The main difficulty is overpopulation, with thousands of prisoners in excess of the actual prisons’ capacity. This is a situation that requires a timely intervention, which the government has been trying to remedy for some years now, without, unfortunately, getting to a definitive solution. In this respect, a proposal for rethinking the penal sanction system comes from Paola Severino, Antonio Gullo and Cinzia Caporale, at the invitation of the Fondazione Veronesi.

Their thesis is that detention should be considered as the last resource and that alternatives to prison should be sought out. This has already beginning to attract some interest at the legislative level, with the establishment in the European Parliament of criminal domains for which no more imprisonment is applicable, limiting the sentence to a home detention. This should, however, be made accessible to all (even those who do not have a home or effectively cannot use it) and should be combined, whenever possible, with activities aimed at social reintegration.

This is a first step towards what might be the abandonment of a corporal punishment when there is no real necessity or effectiveness to it, in order to outline a wider range of sanctions (for example, carrying out public works and relying on social services) that combine the punitive component with a resocializing aspect, namely to promote the insertion of the individual into a working and social context. Of course, this perspective requires both a strong balance from the judge that will be applying the penalty, and the presence of a surveillance judge during the course of the sentence itself.

This method could not only solve the critical problems of the conditions of detention in Italy, but would also constitute an overall improvement of the Italian justice system and the safeguarding of every citizen’s rights. However, it should be accompanied by a debate raising public awareness about the ethical value of the principles driving this proposal.

"Ripensare il sistema sanzionatorio penale"

The author

Paola Severino is Rector of LUISS University and President of the Italian chapter of the International Association of Penal Law. She is the former Minister of Justice in the Monti Government, Head of the LUISS Department of Law and Vice Rector of LUISS


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