Rome

Napolitano gives ultimatum on prison overcrowding

President tells parliament to make up mind on amnesty

Napolitano gives ultimatum on prison overcrowding

(By Emily Backus) Rome, December 4 - Italian President Giorgio Napolitano on Wednesday called on parliament to clearly state whether it would introduce a prisoner amnesty measure. ''Parliament must have the sense of responsibility necessary to say that it wants to introduce a prisoner amnesty measure'' or clearly state ''that it is not necessary'' despite a condemnation by the European Court of Human Rights over prison overcrowding, Napolitano said. In May, the European Court of Human Rights ordered Italy to make dramatic improvements to its prison system to stop overcrowding and undo violations against prison rights. That order gave Italy a deadline of May 20, 2014, Napolitano said last October in a message to leaders in both Italy's Senate and its Lower House demanding action. The justice minister responded to the ultimatum saying a packet of measures was almost ready for review by the cabinet. ''We will shortly bring before the cabinet a package of measures on prisons and criminal and civil trials,'' Anna Maria Cancellieri said at a conference in Rome on prisoner amnesty, promoted by the Italian Senate human rights committee. Cancellieri explained that her ministry planned to propose measures that will ''reinforce the system of alternatives to imprisonment'' including rehabilitation treatment for drug-addicts and alcoholics, as well as expanded parole options for a range of crimes. Cancellieri stated that the possibility of serving sentences at home - a measure due to expire December 31 - would be made a permanent institution. Expedited deportation of foreign detainees would also be part of the bill. Cancellieri added that an ''emergency measure'' would create a ''national ombudsman for detainees'' which she described as an independent, non-law-enforcement entity to protect prisoner rights that would allow Italy ''to at least partially comply with a precise international obligation...to institute an independent authority to monitor'' places of detention by spring. Senate Speaker Pietro Grasso also assured the prisoner amnesty conference in Rome that his office had been notified on November 21 of an imminent bill to address the president's most pressing penal concerns. ''This bill touches on various points highlighted by President Napolitano that are dear to my heart, in particular the introduction of non-jail sentences in the penal code and the entire reform of the criminal system,'' said Grasso. ''I maintain that this package of legal measures will contribute to the necessary de-crowding of prisons, but above all it will keep the phenomenon from continuing to repeat itself''. Grasso blasted ''carcinogenic'' laws that ''create new crimes and other convictions''. Earlier this year, the Strasbourg court 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. The country's prison conditions have long been the source of criticism from human rights groups.

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