di Riccardo D'Andrea
Rome, May 12 - Newly appointed Italian Justice Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri, who is part of the new cabinet headed by Premier Enrico Letta sworn in last Sunday, said on Thursday she will examine and address local prison suicides during her term in office. "It's a serious issue that we want to address with determination, but first of all we need to understand it thoroughly," Cancellieri said during a visit to Rome's Regina Coeli prison. "It's a way of addressing a problem that I consider to be very delicate and very important, and I want to start from here". Roughly 60 prisoners in Italy commit suicide each year, or roughly 20 times the average for the general population, according to a December 2012 Permanent Observatory on Prison Deaths report. The country's prison conditions have long been the source of criticism from human rights groups. In January the European Court of Human Rights harshly criticized authorities for holding prisoners in crammed cells, specifically seven men who were held at prisons in Busto Arsizio and Piacenza, both located in northern Italy. In April Italy challenged the ruling that orders it to correct the "degrading and inhumane conditions" in its prisons and to pay 100,000 euros in damages to seven inmates. The inmates had fewer than three square meters of space each. That same month a psychiatrists' group said one third of prison inmates are at high risk of developing a mental illness, with about 20,000 of the 70,000 inmates in Italian prisons having developed diseases such as psychosis, depression, severe anxiety and bipolar disorder.