Rome, November 22 - President of the Republic Giorgio Napolitano on Thursday reiterated calls for action to improve conditions for detainees in the country's overcrowded jails. "The continuous increase in the prison population and the significant presence of foreign prisoners makes pursuing the rehabilitative aim of punishment extremely complex and often in vain," said Napolitano in a message to the head of the Italian prison administration department to coincide with the 17th Council of Europe Conference of Directors of Prison Administration underway in Rome. "In this alarming context it is indispensable to tackle situations of unease, suffering and major risk that such a reality implies". The head of state went on to urge the pursuit of "differentiated and flexible" legislative and organisational solutions to prevent punishment "from going beyond the point where its infliction is in contrast with a sense of humanity and its function of reintegrating detainees into society". On Monday the Italian prisoners' rights organization Antigone published a report showing that Italy's prisons are still far more crowded than the European average and that the situation has actually worsened since a state of emergency was declared over the issue nearly three years ago. Italian prisons are currently filled to 142.5% capacity, compared to a European average of 99.6%, with a population of 66,685 today compared to 64,791 at the end of 2009. Overcrowding is particularly bad in the regions of Liguria, Puglia and Veneto. The so-called 'empty jails' decree aiming to significantly relieve prisons over a 20-month period ending on October 31 of this year led to the early release of just 8,267 detainees, compared to the regular release of 140,000 prisoners over the same period. Foreigners also outnumber Italians in most northern Italian prisons, according to Antigone. The percentage of foreign prisoners in Milan and Vicenza jails, for example, is respectively 62% and 65% and it reaches nearly 70% in the mountain territories of Trentino Alto Adige and Valle d'Aosta. In the southern regions of Basilicata, Campania and Molise, foreigners make up just over 10% of the prison population.
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