(see related on European Court of Human Rights) Rome, April 10 - Italy has formally challenged a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights ordering Italy to correct the "degrading and inhumane conditions" in its prisons and to pay 100,000 euros in damages to seven inmates. In January the Strasbourg-based court harshly criticized authorities for holding prisoners in crammed cells, specifically seven men 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. Giovanni Tamburino, the head of Italy's department of corrections, said the appeal was aimed at giving authorities more time to address the issue. "The year we have to abide by the verdict will begin from the time Strasbourg rules" on the appeal, he said. At the time of the January ruling, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano said Italy should be ashamed by the court's words, while 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. Three days after the January ruling, Premier Mario Monti proposed a measure allocating 16 million euros for prisoner work programs aimed at relieving overcrowding. The country's prison conditions have long been the source of criticism from human rights groups. In December, 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. The same month, Monti's administration issued a decree allowing prisoners to serve the last 18 months of their sentence under house arrest.