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«SPACE, TIME AND INTERACTIONS IN THE DAILY LIFE OF THE ITALIAN PRISONS Daniela Ronco, Giovanni Torrente & Michele Miravalle On the ...»

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Daniela Ronco, Giovanni Torrente & Michele Miravalle

On the 8th of January 2013, the European Courts for Human Rights

condemned Italy for the violation of Art. 3 of the ECHR. The structural

conditions of the Italian prisons (overcrowding, high rates of pre-trial

prisoners, etc.) represent a case of “State-torture”. How was it possible to come to such a disturbing scenario? How can we situate the ECHR sentence within the last challenges in European society? Which are the connections between these structural ill-treatments and the everyday life in prison? The Antigone Association conducts a prison observatory activity since the end of the 90’s, visiting prisons and collecting a great amount of qualitative and quantitative data. The paper (presented by some of the coordinators of such activity) aims to present a phenomenological description of what observed during the visits. The authors will focus on the evolutions in the organization of spaces, the recurring irrationalities in the use of time, the raising individualism among prisoners and the sense of powerlessness expressed by many prison officers. They will also underline the impact of some important reforms, about health, mentally ill offenders’ treatment and recidivism.


I. SPACE. A FOCUS ON STRUCTURAL CONDITIONS OF PRISONS................. 1152 A. Structural Conditions and Overcrowding

The Impact of the Prison Spaces on the Prisoners’ Health B.



A. The Italian New Ghetto for Migrants

B. What Changes?

C. A Special Penal Law for Migrants

 Daniela Ronco wrote the introduction and par. 1 of the present essay. She is Research Fellow at the University of Torino and coordinator of the Italian observatory on prison conditions of Antigone association. Research fields: Sociology of Penal Law, Prison Ethnography, and Alternatives to Prison (both on a national and comparative perspective).

 Giovanni Torrente wrote part 2 and the conclusion of the present essay. He is Research Fellow at the University of Torino and coordinator of the Italian observatory on prison conditions of Antigone association. He wrote Punishment and Recidivism. The Italian Case (UNICRI Publications 2009).

Research fields: Sociology of Penal Law.

 Michele Miravalle wrote par. 3 of the present essay. He is a PHD candidate of University of Torino, Departement of Law and observer of the Italian observatory on prison condition of Antigone association. Research fields: Sociology of Total Institutions.


A. The Historical Background



The Italian Constitution states that punishment can’t be inhuman and must be oriented to the re-education of the convicted (Art. 27). In order to put into effect that principle, the penitentiary law (law No. 354/1975) has prescribed a new regulation as for the penal execution. The key point of the reform was the individualization of the re-educational treatment of the convicted, for whom it is drawn up a specific program that can be integrated or modified in progress and according to specific needs. The aim of reeducation is the reason behind the introduction of alternatives to imprisonment (in particular ordinary and special assignment of offenders to the probation service, home detention and semi-liberty1).

Despite that, on February 8, 2013, the European Court on Human Rights condemned Italy for inhuman and degrading treatment inside prisons.2 Mr. Torreggiani and other six applicants claimed they were subject to the violation of Article 3 of the European Chart on Human Rights while they served their sentences in Busto Arsizio and Piacenza prisons. Each of the applicants alleged that he had shared a nine square metres cell with two other prisoners, giving them three square metres of personal space each3.

Moreover, they complained of a lack of hot water and, in some cases, inadequate lighting in the cells.

The Torreggiani sentence is a pilot virdict, because several hundreds of applications against Italy were received from different Italian prisons on similar grounds, confirming the systematic problem of overcrowding in the Italian prison system. After its complaint, the Court has allowed to the Italian government a year to adapt its prison system to the principles of humanity and human rights safeguard, temporarily suspending all the For a general description of the alteranatives to prison in the specific Italian system, also compared to the other European systems, see Luisa Gandini, Sebastiano Zinna, Italy, PROBATION IN EUROPE 487-522 (Anton M. van Kalmthout, Ioan Durnescu, ed., Nijmegen, Wolf Legal Publishers 2008).

Torreggiani et al. vs Italy, http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/sites/engpress/pages/search.aspx#{%22fulltext%22:[%22torreggiani%22]} 4 square metre per person was the standard recommended by the Committee for the Prevention of Torture in terms of living space in cells. The 4 square metre criteria as the minimum living space was already used in a previous case, in which Italy was found guilty of contravening article 3 of the ECHR in prisons on July 16, 2009. Sulejmanovic vs. Italy, http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/sites/engpress/pages/search.aspx?i=003-2802468-3069791#{%22itemid%22:[%22003-2802468SPACE, TIME AND INTERACTIONS 1151 complaints received in the meantime. In the absence of adaptations, the Italian government will have likely to refund all those people being inhumanely treated.

The Torreggiani sentence is to be considered pivotal, because it finally highlighted the very poor and oppressive conditions of the Italian prison system. In the following pages, we are going to present the daily life conditions inside prisons which run to the pass judgement. In particular, we’ll describe the main anomalies of the Italian prison system compared with the general European situation (overcrowding rate, pre-trial detention numbers, foreigner prisoners, temporal open-endedness of penalties). The official data by the Ministry of Justice will be analysed in parallel to the presentation of the results of the Observatory on prison conditions carried out by Antigone Association 4 coordinated by the authors and achieved through visits to all the Italian prisons and direct observation of the detention conditions. The description of the daily life in prison, in particular, will be done using three sociological dimensions of space, time and interaction.

Many “classics” of the sociology of prison introduced some fundamental theoretical constructs to understand the impact of living in prison on the human being and the interactions among individuals. The prison sub-culture5, the prisonization6, the stigmatization and infantilization7 may still be considered the background for the participant or direct observation of a total institution.

Berger and Luckmann 8 theorized the predominance of the daily life sphere, among various dimensions of reality. This is particularly and dramatically true inside a total institution, where time and space are structured in a strongly coercive way. Equally, the face to face interaction is preponderant, because of the poverty of social relationship and global interactions which are typical of the contemporary world 9. Therefore, the For a description of the Observatory carried out by Antigone Association and an overview of the data collected, see http://www.osservatorioantigone.it/new/english.

The definition of prison sub-culture is given for the first time by GRESHAM SYKES, THE SOCIETY OF CAPTIVES. A STUDY OF A MAXIMUM SECURITY PRISON (Princeton, Princeton University Press 1958).

The concept of prisonization is introduced by DONALD CLEMMER, THE PRISON COMMUNITY (Boston, The Christopher Publishing House 1941).


INMATES (Random House, Broadway 1961).


The transformations of the social interaction related to the process of globalization have been highlighted in particular by ZYGMUNT BAUMAN, GLOBALIZATION: THE HUMAN CONSEQUENCES (Oxford, Polity Press-Blackwell Publishers 1998).

1152 US-CHINA LAW REVIEW Vol. 11: 1149 attention is put especially on the temporal, spatial and relational dimensions of life in prison.

–  –  –

A. Structural Conditions and Overcrowding The first data we have to take into consideration is the total number of prisoners in Italy, compared to the total capacity of penal institutions. The total detained people on February 28, 2014, according to the official data by the Ministry of Justice, were 60.828, whereas the total capacity of penal institutions was 47.857 10. The overcrowding rate, therefore, was 127%.

According to the last European survey, as for the overcrowding rate, Italy was at the third place within all the European countries, only after Serbia and Greece11.

Talking of spaces, the first consideration, therefore, concerns the existing gap between the above-mentioned official capacity of penal institutions, on the one hand, and the de facto available places, on the other hand. During many visits to prisons realised within the Observatory on prison conditions carried out by Antigone Association, indeed, we could certify that often the official total capacity is in fact reduced by the more or less temporary unavailability of some branches or cells. Such situation has been determined mainly by a progressive reduction of those financial sums addressed to the facilities maintenance. As a consequence, in the case of structural problems (concerning heating, water losses, electricity dysfunctions, dangerous cracks in the walls, etc.), the solution adopted by the Prison Administration is more and more the closure of the faulty branch and the consequent movement of prisoners towards other sections of the prison. In this way, a general worsening of the living conditions occurs. The phenomenon is so much widespread that we could estimate the reduction of the available places in about 10.000 units less than those officially recorded.

Moreover, such situation has been officially acknowledged by the former Ministry of Justice, Anna Maria Cancellieri, during the conference “Prisons, immigration, human rights in the European constitutional framework”, organised by the University Roma Tre, Antigone Association and Progetto Diritti on October 15, 201312.

Source: Ministry of Justice. www.giustizia.it.

See Space I, available at http://www3.unil.ch/wpmu/space/files/2013/05/SPACEEnglish.pdf, at 58.

See http://www.corriere.it/cronache/13_ottobre_17/carceri-cancellieri-posti-letto-sono-menoproblema-sottovalutato-30-anni-9b581c92-370f-11e3-ab57-6b6fcd48eb87.shtml.

2014 SPACE, TIME AND INTERACTIONS 1153 Furthermore, if we analyse the data about the pre-trial detainees, we come across one of the most serious anomaly of the Italian situation in the European framework, in a legal Garantismo perspective13. On February 28, 2014, the pre-trial detainees were 22.240, which is the 36.56% of the total prison population. Also in this case, the comparison with the European framework is particularly unhappy: against a European mean of 28.1%, the Italian percentage of pre-trial detainees have been moving from 35% to 40% in the last years14.

But which are the consequences of those numbers on the daily life in

prison? A first general picture is given by the voice of a prisoner:

Life inside cells is hard: we are in three and we do not have the space to walk, in the morning I have to lie in my bed because there is no space, to go to the toilet I have to wait an hour because we are three people in the cell. It’s worst than death, we came back to the Holocaust era. Please, help us for our rights, we are not animals. (prisoner) More in general, a criterion to evaluate the prison spaces is given by the gap between what the law prescribes 15 and the observed situation, according to a law in the books—law in action perspective16. To this end,

just to make some examples, we can notice the following gaps:

1. The law imposes one person or two person cells, while one person cells may host up to three people and in some prisons there are dormitories;

2. The law imposes a separate bathroom with a shower in the cell, but very rarely we have found it. In some prisons, there is no running water in the cells during the summer and hot water is not always available;

3. The law imposes a certain amount of natural light, while in some prisons artificial light is always on because the meshes on the granting at the windows are very narrow. In some jails, there are unheated sections and air conditioning is nowhere.

A factor affecting significantly the quality of life in prison is the age of the facilities. The Italian prisons may be divided in two main categories: the old facilities (ancient monasteries or similar, then converted in prisons) and The term “garantismo” does not translate into English smoothly. It does not refer to a mere legalism or formalism, whereas it refers to those core values whose protection justify the existence of the State.

For an accurate description of the theory, see LUIGI FERRAJOLI, DIRITTO E RAGIONE: TEORIA DEL GARANTISMO PENALE (Bari, Laterza 1990).

See Space I, at 91.

See the Penitentiary Law (Penitentiary Act n 354 dated July 17, 1975) and the Rules of Execution (Decree n 230 dated June 30, 2000).

For a general description of the law in the books-law in action perspective, associated with the legal realism movement, see Roscoe Pound, Law in the Books and Law in the Action, No. 44 AMERICAN LAW REVIEW 12-36 (1910).

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