Rome

Napolitano calls Italian prison overcrowding 'humiliating'

Storm over whether Berlusconi will benefit from amnesty

Napolitano calls Italian prison overcrowding 'humiliating'

Rome, October 15 - Italian President Giorgio Napolitano on Tuesday once more urged parliament to pass an amnesty measure to relieve Italy's bursting jails, after telling lawmakers earlier this month that overcrowding in Italy's prisons was ''a disgrace''. ''The painful, humiliating, inescapable prison emergency'' is one of ''Italy's own challenges'' that even the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has told the country to tackle, Napolitano declared. Raising the issue of amnesty for less-serious crimes has led lawmakers and media to question whether Silvio Berlusconi might benefit from such a measure after the supreme court upheld a tax fraud conviction against him in August. The centre-right leader and three-time premier may be stripped of his Senate seat this month and is set to serve a one-year prison sentence by doing community service. A centre-left Democratic Party (DP) representative the parliament justice commission, Danilo Leva, said in an interview that Berlusconi would not benefit, reiterating a statement to the same effect uttered by Justice Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri. ''It is humiliating that every time (the subject comes up) one must make reference to Berlusconi, but I must respond 'no'. It is not about passing a law against him or in his favour. It is a fact that with amnesties in the past, heinous and morally harmful crimes have always been excluded,'' Leva told newspaper Il Messaggero in an interview published Tuesday. ''Moreover this type of crime involves few people and instead the amnesty serves to limit prison overcrowding, a phenomenon that takes Italy outside of the European juridical culture. This is the problem - not Berlusconi's destiny,'' Leva added. ''This time we shouldn't limit ourselves to an extraordinary provision but we have the time to pass a plan that tackles the roots of prison overcrowding,'' Leva explained. Leva said the measures proposed by the PD are ''reform of jail custody (rules), reducing its applicability'' because 40% of those in prison are awaiting definitive conviction. The bill also includes ''alternative sentences for minor crimes; more work in jail; a more precise distinction between light and heavy drugs; more immigrants who serve time in their own countries'' and repealing the so-called Bossi-Fini law that made illegal immigration a crime, and eliminating measures designed by former interior minister Roberto Maroni under the former centre-right Berlusconi administration. ''The regulatory framework that has overcrowded Italian prisons must be overcome, where 26,000 immigrants and 16,000 drug addicts (are behind bars). We should make it so drug addicts are entrusted to therapeutic rehabilitation,'' Leva said.

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