di Marcello Mento
Rome, June 14 - A decree aimed at promoting alternative detention measures set for approval by the cabinet on Saturday will prevent up to 4,000 convicts from serving jail terms and is not aimed at ''emptying prisons'', Justice Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri said on Friday. The decree, she said ''should not be read as one emptying prisons, in fact it doesn't empty anything because it will actually prevent 3-4,000 people who don't pose a social threat from entering (detention)facilities''. One day after announcing the measure, Cancellieri explained the decree was not aimed at decreasing overcrowding in Italian jails but rather identifying convicts who are not considered dangerous and can therefore serve their terms without jail confinement, under the judiciary's supervision. ''Quite another thing is overcrowding which has officially reached 20,000 units but is actually much more significant and therefore requires momentous intervention'', said the minister. The European Court of Human Rights rejected Italy's appeal against a sentence condemning Rome for the state of Italian jails in May, giving the country one year to find a solution to its prison overcrowding and to implement a procedure for paying damages to victims. In April, 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. In January the court, which is part of the Council of Europe, harshly criticized authorities for holding prisoners in crammed cells, specifically seven men held in fewer than three square meters of space at prisons in Busto Arsizio and Piacenza, both located in northern Italy. There are 147 inmates for every 100 places in Italy, the 47-nation human rights organisation said, compared with a European average of 105.