di Francesco Musolino
Rome, January 8 - Italy will have just one year to correct the degrading and inhumane conditions in its prisons, the European Court of Human Rights said Tuesday. The Strasbourg-based court, which harshly criticized authorities for holding prisoners in crammed cells, also ordered the Italian government to pay 100,000 euros in compensation to seven inmates involved in the case. The European Court's ruling dealt specifically with those seven, who have been held at prisons in Busto Arsizio and Piacenza, both located in northern Italy. The inmates had fewer than three square meters of space each. Italian President Giorgio Napolitano says Italy should be ashamed by the court's words. Its judgement is a call for Italy to improve conditions, said Napolitano, "and is a mortifying confirmation of the inability of our state to ensure basic rights of inmates awaiting trial and the execution of sentence". Justice Minister Paola Severino said she wasn't shocked by the court's criticisms. "I am deeply humbled but unfortunately, today's sentence of the European Court of Human Rights does not surprise me," said Severino. The country's prison conditions have long been the source of criticism from human rights groups. Last month, the Permanent Observatory on Prison Deaths reported that inmate suicides in Italy are 20 times that of the general population, caused mostly by "environmental factors" and "illegal" detention conditions. Playwright Dario Fo, who won the 1997 Nobel prize in Literature, said the ruling was a "shame" for Italy but that it was time the issue was brought to light. "For years, we have said that the Italian prison is unworthy of a civilized people," said Fo. "Today, we have won a battle".