No plans to reopen Asinara says minister

No plans to reopen Asinara says minister

Sassari, July 9 - The government does not plan to reopen the once-notorious prison island off Sardinia to ease Italy's chronic jail overcrowding, Justice MInister Anna Maria Cancellierei said Tuesday. "There is absolutely no plan," she said at the inauguration of a jail near Sassari, although the government would consider the idea if mooted by the Sardinian government. In March then Justice Minister Paola Severino said Asinara and another ill-famed former prison islands, Pianosa off Tuscany, could be used again to ensure maximum-security regimes for mafiosi and ease overcrowding. Severino said the costs might be "high" but "if we were able to meet those costs we might think of reopening them". Some politicians welcomed Severino's idea but local officials, especially in Sardinia, were critical. A government spokesman confirmed last month that plans to reopen Pianosa, which was used for high-security prisoners in the 1990s, would go ahead. Residents hoping to develop the island's tourist industry were frosty about the notion. Pianosa, perched in the Tyrrhennian Sea halfway between Elba and Corsica, was preparing to develop a tourist industry after the penal facility was closed. Local officials had hoped to capitalize on the fact that paradoxically, Pianosa's top-security facilities actually helped to saved its natural environment from developers. Like Elba, which has built up a local lore based on Napoleon's famous exile, Pianosa had considered the possibilities of capitalizing on its past as a penal colony, which stretch back to the time Roman Emperor Augustus had his former favourite Postumus marooned there. Pianosa is part of an archipelago made up of Elba - the largest of the islands - Capraia, Giglio, Gorgona, Giannutri and Montecristo, setting of Alexandre Dumas's novel The Count of Monte Cristo. Prison overcrowding has been an enormous social and political problem for the government and suicide rates among inmates have continued to rise despite efforts to find alternatives to custodial sentences. The government recently vowed to build more prisons, give more offenders non-jail sentences and release more prisoners to meet European demands that the inmate-to-capacity ratio falls to "humane" levels.

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