di Davide Marchetta
Rome, June 7 - Deficiencies in the Italian prison system have reached "critical thresholds" that must not be breached, President Giorgio Napolitano said Friday. He called for quick decisions by government to deal with overcrowding and the degrading treatment of prisoners in a message directed at Giovanni Tamburino, the national head of administration of the penitentiary system. Napolitano has consistently called for better treatment of prisons and, by extension, workers in that system who he said also suffer from the poor conditions in Italian penitentiaries. The situation has also been condemned by European Union watchdogs. Last month, the European Court of Human Rights rejected Italy's appeal against a sentence condemning Rome for the state of Italian jails. Italy had formally challenged the Strasbourg-based court when it ordered Rome to correct the "degrading and inhumane conditions" in its prisons and to pay 100,000 euros in damages to seven inmates. Napolitano also used his message, sent on the 196th anniversary of the founding of the penitentiary police system, to express to the prison workers the country's "deep appreciation for the generous commitment and the increasing professionalism," in their work. 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 Council of Europe (COE) reported earlier this month that Italy's jails are the third most overcrowded in Europe behind Serbia and Greece. There are 147 inmates for every 100 beds in Italy, the 47-nation human rights organisation said, compared with a European average of 105. Italy is also third for the number of inmates awaiting trial, after Ukraine and Turkey. Interior Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri said Friday Italy would keep its promise to send the COE the latest figures on inmate numbers "as soon as possible" She said they were "ready and just need collating".