A copy of the prison regulations is made available to the prisoners


Cell assignment is done on the basis of the needs expressed by the inmates themselves, but decisions are ultimately made on a discretionary basis. The judicial authority may require the administration to prevent contact between certain prisoners. Inmates should be separated according to their legal status. Overcrowding often compromises this legal obligation.

The sentence should provide individualized treatment for the inmate, carried out by a team of socio-educational professionals. In practice, the prison administration does not allocate sufficient means to respect this objective.

There are around 900 educators for a population of almost 60,000 prisoners, a low number compared to the European average.

The prison educator is appointed through a competitive examination. It is necessary to have a higher education degree.

Prisoners can be assisted by a lawyer throughout their incarceration


Prisoners have access to a legal aid centre


Inmates are not allowed to have private phone conversations with their lawyers. They can only exchange letters in confidentiality.

Deaths in custody are logged in a register


Figures on deaths in prison custody are published on a regular basis. The Ministry of Justice (DAP) publishes monthly, annual and biannual statistics.

Number of deaths in custody


/ Antigone, “Annual Report, 2017”, (in Italian)

Suicide is the cause of 40% of the deaths in 2017. Natural death is the second main reason.

Homicides in Italian prisons are very sporadic according to the official statistics. Over the last 25 years, the average has been less than one homicide per year.

The Italian NGO Ristretti Orizzonti published on its website information concerning these homicides; they usually result from escalated internal and often futile disputes. None of these are related to blood feuds, contrary to most of the homicides outside prison.

Variation in the number of deaths in custody

an increase of 11.5%

In 2016, there were 115 deaths in detention.

Number of deaths attributed to suicide


/ Antigone, “Annual Report, 2017” (in Italian)

In December 2017, the UN Committee Against Torture stressed out the lack of information concerning suicides and other sudden deaths in detention.

A study published in 2008 by Giovanni Torrente1 pointed that 25 out of the 48 suicides registered that year happened during pre-trial detention. The period prior to release has also been identified as increasing the chances of committing suicide.

Studies also point at the lack of prison staff and social educators as one of the factors. For example, Cagliari prison which hosts around 600 inmates out of which close to a half suffer from drug dependency or psychological disorders, only counts nine social educators.

The penitentiary administration (DAP) reported 8,586 cases of self-harm in 2016. Nonetheless, individual causes can also come into account. For example, out of 500 self-injurious acts reported in Terni prison in 2016, 200 were committed by the same person.

  1. Giovanni Torrente, “Sentence and reoffending: current trends and state of research”, 2009. 

Variation in the number of suicides

an increase of 33.3%

There were 39 suicides in 2016. 33 were committed by hanging. Three cases were linked to asphyxia from gas, one to suffocation, one to a fall from stairs and one to poisoning1.

  1. Medicina Penitenziaria, “Il suicidio in carcerenel 2016” 

Death rate in custody (per 10,000 prisoners)


/ Antigone, “Annual Report, 2017” (in Italian)

Suicide rate in custody (per 10,000 prisoners)


/ Antigone, “Annual Report, 2017” (in Italian)

(91 per 100,000 prisoners)

The suicide rate passed from 8.4 in 2008 (46 suicides) to 9.1 in 2017 (52). A significant decrease was observed in 2013, when the rate stood at 6 suicides per 10,000 inmates.

National suicide rate (per 10,000 inhabitants)



The prison service must notify a judicial authority for

all deaths

According to the decree 230 of the President of the Republic (June 2000), a doctor should present a report to the prison warden after each death. The report should be transferred to the authorities.

  • In 2017, the UN Committee Against Torture invited Italian authorities to ensure that deaths in pre-trial detention are promptly and impartially investigated by an independent body.

According to Italian law, the partner or closest relatives of the inmate should be informed in case of death. This provision is not duly implemented in practice. Authorities sometimes communicate deaths in a cold way or delegate the duty to the prison chaplain1.

  1. European Prison Observatory, “Prison conditions in Italy” September 2013. 

Suicide prevention policies are implemented


A national plan for prevention of suicides for adult and minor inmates was introduced in 2017 by the prison administration and the Ministry of Justice. It provides guidelines for data collection at a local, regional and national level that should allow to detect suicidal tendencies. Inmates at risk receive psychological support from professionals and volunteers. The prison staff should remain aware in order to detect potentially threatening situations1.

  • Andrea Cesar was found dead on the night of 26 April 2017 in Coroneo prison (Trieste). A drug overdose is supposed to be the cause. His death brought to light the lack of staff in the facility, where only one guard was on function during the night of the events for about 200 inmates. The mishandling of the healthcare service was also pointed by the penitentiary police (UILPA), stressing the fact that private operators monopolize decision-making and information about the inmates’ health profiles.

    / Il Piccolo

The prohibition of torture is enshrined in the Constitution and the legislation

only the legislation

After long negotiations and several findings of violations by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), Italy finally introduced the definition of torture into its criminal code in July 2017.

The Constitution (article 13) does not refer to the prohibition of torture but rather to all types of violence against physical integrity. Even though Italy criminalized torture in 2017, no complaints or proceedings according to the new law have been filed yet. Prior to July 2017, investigations were entrusted to the judicial police by the magistrates. However, there is no judicial police section within the Public Prosecutor’s Office specialized in torture or ill-treatment.

In 2017, the ECtHR found a violation by Italy of Article 3 of the European Convention for Human Rights (ECHR) for the absence of a definition of torture in Italian legislation in cases Blair and others and Azzolina. In the case Cirino and Renne v. Italy the ECtHR considered that domestic courts had made an effort to establish the facts and to identify the individuals responsible for the treatment inflicted on the applicants. However, Italian courts had concluded that, under Italian law, there were no legal provisions allowing to qualify the treatment in question as torture.

The United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT) was

  • signed in1985
  • ratified in 1989

The definition of torture by Italian criminal code does not fully comply with the UNCAT. It does not provide a definition of the perpetrator or the factors motivating the use of torture.

According to Italian law, perpetrators of torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment face prison sentences from five to 12 years. If the acts result in the unintentional death of the victim, penalty increases up to 30 years. They might incur a life sentence if the resulting death is considered intentional.

All allegations and suspicions of ill-treatment inflicted on prisoners are logged


In the Submissions to the UN Committee Against Torture, Antigone recommended to the authorities to create a single register with data regarding complaints about torture and ill-treatment1.

Italian authorities prosecute prison functionaries who are pointed as responsible for a death that is considered to be suspect.

  • Eight physicians and a psychiatrist were prosecuted for manslaughter in 2016 in a case filed by Antigone.
    The event took place in July 2012. Mr. Alfredo Liotta died in Cavadonna prison (Siracusa) from complications linked to a severe eating disorder and other psychiatric conditions. The medical staff that examined him shortly before his death considered he was simulating that condition in order to escape from prison and was thus never transferred to a hospital. The trial will take place in May 20191.

    1. Ibid. 

During the last Universal Periodic Review, the UN Committee against Torture (CAT) recognized the efforts made by Italy to provide training programmes in human rights to prison staff. However, it considered that there was not enough information about the impact those programmes were having[^16]. [^16]: UN Committee against Torture “Concluding observations on the combined fifth and sixth periodic reports of Italy”, 18 December 2017, §30.

The medical staff is independent from the prison administration. However, they do not have any specific training to properly document the physical and psychological effects and signs of torture and ill-treatment1.

  1. UN Committee against Torture “Concluding observations on the combined fifth and sixth periodic reports of Italy”, 18 December 2017, §30. 

Number of recorded violent acts between prisoners


Each prison facility keeps an updated record of violence between inmates

  • In March 2017, an inmate of the Mammagialla prison (Viterbo) was attacked by a group of inmates. He was hospitalized due to the injuries and was later released from prison.
    In December 2017, two men were attacked by a group of inmates in a high security block of Fuorni prison (Salerno). Victims were transferred to the hospital and one of them suffered from serious skull and face injuries.

Acts of violence between prisoners are investigated


In case of complaint, an investigation is automatically opened.

The most frequent forms of violence reported are aggressions (between inmates and between police officers and inmates). The prison administration does not provide a real distinction of the nature of the aggressions recorded. It is known that insults are not taken into account in the number of aggressions registered. Violence between inmates is mainly linked to overpopulation and internal tensions within prison life.

However, overcrowding is not the single reason that increases violence in prison. High occupancy rates combined with other factors such as the lack of activities or work opportunities, as well as prolonged solitary confinement, can increase the number of aggressions registered in a prison facility.

This is the case in the overcrowded Como prison, where Antigone’s monitoring team has been observing a situation of strong tension in the past years.

Number of complaints filed by prisoners against the prison service


/ National Guarantor for the Rights of Persons Detained or Deprived of Liberty, “Report to Parliament”, 2018 p.78 (in Italian)

(from 1 January 2017 to 31 March 2018)

There is no formal register with data regarding complaints, investigations or prosecutions. Antigone has strongly recommended Italian authorities to create a register for complaints.

  • In 2017, the majority of complaints were made against degrading conditions of detention (58%), violation of the right to health (19%), transfers (17%) and the right to defence(6%)1.

    1. National Guarantor for the Rights of Persons Detained or Deprived of Liberty, “Report to Parliament”, 2018 p.78. (in Italian). 

Inmates can file complaints against the penitentiary administration.

They can claim remedies for poor prison conditions. After exhaustion of domestic remedies, inmates can address their complaints to the ECtHR.

Complaints can be made orally or in writing.

Investigations, after complaints, are always very lengthy. After several years of judicial proceedings, judges have difficulties in pronouncing a decision. Moreover, when offenders have been convicted, they can benefit from pardon and serve a sentence lower than the one decided by the judge1.

  1. International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (FIACAT) & Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture in Italy (ACAT-Italy), “Joint alternative report by FIACAT and ACAT-Italy on the implementation of the CAT by Italy”, 2017, §45. 

The Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) was

  • signed in 2003
  • ratified in 2013

An NPM has been established


In February 2014, Italy established a new specialised institution as National Preventive Mechanism (NPM). The National Guarantor for the Rights of Persons Detained or Deprived of Personal Liberty, or Garantenazionale, protects the rights of persons deprived of liberty at regional and city levels. Even if a legislative framework was established in 2014, the NPM came into the office in 2016.

Name of the NPM

National guarantor of the rights of persons detained or deprived of liberty (Garante nazionale dei diritti delle persone detenute o private della libertà personale)

The NPM has come into office

yes, in 2016

The NPM was appointed by

the executive power

NPM members are appointed, after deliberation by the Council of Ministers, by the President of the Republic, after hearing the relevant parliamentary committees.

Structure of the NPM

collegiate body

The NPM is an independent authority composed by a president and two members.

They are chosen among people who do not work for or depend of the public administration. This ensures independence and expertise in disciplines related to human rights protection. The members of the NPM are not allowed to hold institutional positions, including elective or positions in political parties.

The NPM is reliant on the Ministry of Justice for financial resources and staff, which may pose obstacles to its future independence.

The NPM is represented by Mauro Palma (Chairman), Daniela de Robert (Board Member), Emilia Rossi (Board Member).

Term of office of the NPM

5 years

The term of office is non-renewable and irrevocable.

The NPM reports are made public


In the spirit of collaboration, these reports are embargoed for a certain period, during which the authorities can reply to the remarks made. All documentation is published on the Guarantor’s website.

Number of visits made by the NPM during the year


(visits made between March 2017 and April 2018)

/ National Guarantor for the Rights of Persons Detained or Deprived from Liberty, “Report to Parliament, 2018”, p.67.

The legislation allows the NPM to carry out unannounced visits


The NPM can make thematic and regional visits on a regular basis and without permissions. It also carries out ad hoc and follow up visits.

Inmates, relatives, lawyer or prison activists can refer to the NPM. There are no conditions to seize this body. When the NPM receives a large number of complaints from one specific facility, they usually organise a visit to verify the general conditions of detention of the prison.

The NPM can monitor all prison facilities, units and premises


The NPM recommendations are effectively implemented

in some cases

NPM’s recommendations are not mandatory. The NPM can make justified remarks and specific recommendations. These recommendations are sent to the prison administration. In case of disagreement with them, the administration has to justify this within 30 days. When the deadline expires, all remarks, recommendations and replies are published on the NPM’s website without indicating the name of the persons involved. When necessary, they are sent to the Subcommittee of the Prevention of Torture (SPT). The NPM can also verify the plausibility of requests and complaints on measures depriving or limiting liberties1.

  1. National Guarantor for the Rights of Persons Detained or Deprived from Liberty, “Report to Parliament, 2018”, p.67. 

For following up on NPM recommendations, the direction of a prison facility has 30 days to respond to remarks and recommendations made by NPM.

A regional body monitors the places of deprivation of liberty


The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT).

Its reports are made public


During 2016, the delegation of CPT visited Italy in order to examine the measures implemented by authorities to reduce overcrowding and the reforms of forensic psychiatry.

In its report, the CPT concluded that conditions in cells were acceptable for short periods. However, for prolonged detention (e.g. up to 72 hours), the conditions remained inadequate, lacking outdoor activities and showers.

The Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture (SPT) has visited the country

yes, from 16th to 22nd September 2015

Its report was made public


The report was published in 2016.

Penitentiary institutions are subject to other external oversight mechanisms:

  • Some regions introduced an independent authority similar to the NPM at a regional level. As of May 2016, 15 regions (out of a total of 20) have established their regional authority for the rights of persons deprived of liberty. Eleven authorities have been established at a provincial level and 42 at the city level.
  • The association Antigone has the right to visit all prison facilities. Of the approximately 4,000 appeals filed in the context of the Torreggiani vs. Italy case before the ECtHR for violation of Article 3 of the ECHR, approximately 1,400 cases were filed with the participation of Antigone.

The Prison Observatory or Osservatorio Carcere, established in 2006, is a structure composed by the head of Government responsible for the prison section and a working group. Itstudies the legal and practical problems of the penitentiary system, performs monitoring of prisons through visits and proposes solutions to improve the situation.

The law provides for a sentence adjustment system


The adjustment of sentences is decided by special judges and courts (Magistrato di Sorveglianza and Tribunale di Sorveglianza).

The sentence can be adjusted as soon as it is pronounced (ab initio)


If the sentence or residual prison sentence does not exceed three years, with the personal observation on inmate, s/he can be assigned to the probation service.

Sentence adjustments can be granted during the incarceration


Inmates who show good behaviour and participate in activities can be granted early release (reduction of 45 days of sentence for each 6 months of sentence served).

Prisoners can contest a negative decision of sentence adjustment


There are several options, depending on the type of adjustment in question.

Specific categories of prisoners are ineligible for sentence adjustment


Inmates condemned for criminal association with mafia or terrorism and who do not cooperate with justice (give information) are not eligible for sentence adjustment.

The law provides for a temporary release system


The Italian penitentiary law provides a system of award permissions (for 15 days) for inmates with good behavior. Inmates should behave correctly and take part in the activities organised. They should also have served a part of the sentence (depending on the length of the sentence pronounced).

Special permissions can be delivered to inmates sentenced to no more than four years of prison, or those who have served at least a quarter of the sentence (for life imprisonment – 10 years minimum).

The law provides for a sentence adjustment for medical reasons


It is possible to benefit from alternative measures to detention for medical reasons (e.g. home detention for the period of no more than two years).

Number of prisoners who have been granted a presidential pardon or amnesty during the year



The last amnesty was in 1990 and presidential pardon in 2006.

The last amnesty was granted in 1990 to inmates who were sentenced to no more than four years. Recidivists prisoners were not eligible1.

  1. Senat, “Etude de la legislation comparée” 2007. (in French)