Security, order, and discipline

Security functions are fulfilled by

the penitentiary police


Some prison facilities, units or cells implement high-security measures


In Italy there are seven prison facilities with high security levels. Prisoners under article 41-bis are often placed in high security blocks.

There are two types of high security regimes:

  • High security, divided in blocks AS1 (for organised crime), AS2 (for terrorism-related offences) and AS3 (for drug-related offences).
  • 41-bis regime, for inmates who have been convicted for mafia-related offenses and hold high positions within the hierarchy of their organisations. As of January 2017, there were 729 inmates under 41-bis regime.

Inmates can be placed under these regimes for the offense they committed or after a psychological assessment.

There should be no difference in the detention regime of the three high-security categories. In practice, inmates represent different risks. Italian inmates sentenced for terrorism have attacked staff in the past. Islamic inmates sentenced for terrorism have been involved in fights. The staff has to deal with them in a specific way. For inmates sentenced for mafia-related offences, the risks concern mainly communications with outside world.

Inmates placed under 41-bis regime are assigned to individual cells. They spend one hour a day outside their cells in an individual courtyard. The possession of personal belongings has to be previously authorised. Direct contact with guards is limited even though inmates are constantly under surveillance.

Prisoners are classified according to their supposed level of dangerousness

in most cases

The classification is, in most cases, automatic and depends on the type of offences committed. The degree of dangerousness is also taken into account.

Special blocks with different security levels have been implemented in order to address radicalised inmates:

  • high security (monitoraggio - AS2) for authors of offenses related to international terrorism or political extremism
  • medium security (attenzionamento) for inmates who have been convicted for minor offenses but hold an extremist ideology
  • low security (segnalazione) for inmates convicted for minor offenses, but identified by the prison administration as “vulnerable” to the influence of extremist ideologies1

  1. Cinelli Virginia, “Radicalization in prison: Italian case”, in Sicurezza Terrorismo Società, n°7, 2018, p.87. 

The classification of prisoners is revised


For the 41-bis regime, the summonses/classification is reviewed every two years by the judicial authority. It is possible to request a revision before this period.

The technique of dynamic surveillance was introduced after the Torriagiani vs. Italy case. In semi-opened blocks, cells are open from eight hours minimum to 14 hours maximum, with the possibility to move freely inside the block. Inmates are not supervised through static control. Prison staff must observe the inmates’ personalities.

Some institutions do not respect this policy. Cells are opened for less than eight hours per day (e.g. Badu’eCarros prison, Aquila prison, Latina prison, amongst other).

Prisoners can be subject to:

  • pat-down searches
  • strip searches
  • body cavity searches

The Penitentiary Regulation provides the possibility to pad search inmates after all movements inside the prison facility.

Searches are not recorded in film. The staff who performs the searches is not clearly identifiable (with an identification plate for example).

Strip searches are not carried out by a doctor.

All searches are logged in a register

electronic devices (scanners electronic security detectors, etc.)

All authorised visitors must pass through a metal detector. They must present an identity card and leave their cell phones. They are sometimes manually searched, even through internal body searches are forbidden.

Body cavity searches are conducted by a physician


Visiting professionals are not manually searched. However, they must identify themselves and leave their cell phones outside.

Professionals who enter the prison are searched using the following methods


The staff does not use restraints for movements inside prison. Prisoners cannot be restrained in prison. Handcuffs are used during transfers.

The use of restraints is carefully monitored in REMS.1 Mechanical restraints are generally banned.

However, the delegation of the CPT described the case of a woman hospitalised in Castiglione delle Stiviere who was subject to permanent mechanical restraints to prevent her from self-harming: “The CPT considers that this patient’s placement in a forensic psychiatric establishment is far from appropriate and that the Italian authorities should urgently explore alternative options, as well as more appropriate means for dealing with such cases. More generally, the CPT sets out the basic principles regarding the use of restraint measures, and recommends that they should be the subject of comprehensive protocols in all psychiatric establishments.”2

  1. National Guarantor for the Rights of Persons Detained or Deprived of Liberty, “Report to Parliament”, 2017, p.75. 

  2. Committee for the Prevention of Torture of the Council of Europe (CPT), “Executive summary of the report on the periodic visit to Italy in 2016”, 2017, p.3. 

Security staff carry

no weapons

The prison service keeps record of incidents


Number of escapes


  • A prison escape took place in the Alexandria prison in March 2017. The video surveillance system was not working properly and an inmate managed to escape while he was cleaning the outside area of the facility.

    In October 2017, three prisoners escaped from maximum-security Favigniana prison. One of them was serving a life sentence. The prison facility had been recently renovated. The inmates sawed the bars of the cell and used a rope made out of bed linens. They dropped it from the upper part of the walls to the outside. The prison is located in Favigniana island and the escapees were captured a few days later while they were trying to leave the island on a boat.

    Ismail Kammoun escaped from Volterra prison in July 2017. He was serving a life sentence for mafia crimes but was considered a detenutto modello. He showed good behaviour and had completed an academic course. He had received an award permission for good behaviour for ten days but did not come back to the prison.

Number of hostage takings


  • In March 2017, a group of ten prisoners barricaded themselves for several hours in the common area of the Malaspina juvenile prison. The protesting inmates demanded more award permissions and better food quality. The penitentiary police intervened and quelled the protest. The protesters abandoned the riot and returned into their cells.

    In August 2017, after the suicide of a young Tunisian inmate, a riot in Don Bosco prison, in Pisa, broke out. The riot lasted about three hours. Inmates threw furniture and set up a fire. They were protesting against the degrading living conditions in the facility.

Number of violent acts against prison staff


  • A 45 year-old prisoner of Slavic origin set up a fire in Ferragosto prison in August 2017. He was awaiting trial and showed signs of mental illness. After screaming for most of the night, he broke the sink, the toilet bowl and other furniture. He then started a firetorching a blanket. He then hit his cellmate with pieces of ceramic. The agents of the penitentiary police body had to intervene to stop him.

    In September 2017, in Santa Maria Capua Vetere prison, an inmate set up a fire in his cell. The incident caused serious damages. The fire destroyed some furniture and the smoke intoxicated three inmates. Some of the guards that intervened suffered medium level burns.

    On 27 November 2017, three young adults (two Moroccans and one Russian), who were incarcerated in the Turin juvenile prison, set up a fire in the cell of another inmate. The penitentiary police had to intervene to control the incident. They authors were transferred to another facility.

Individual acts of protest are recorded


There were 1,089 protest movements in 2016.

Collective protest movements are quite frequent. The penitentiary police in most occasions act in a professional manner towards these protests.

Inmates who take part in collective movements cannot be subjected to criminal sanctions. However, in some cases, punitive reactions from the administration have been recorded.

Hunger strike is the most common form of protest. The reasons behind such protests are often individual (unfulfilled requests, access to work, etc.). Collective hunger strikes generally aim to denounce poor living conditions in prisons.

The public administration has a general a duty to respond to any request from a citizen. The prison administration does not have this obligation and often does not respond to requests from prisoners.

  • In September 2017, inmates in San Vittore prison (Milan) have protested against degrading detention conditions, including overpopulation. The inmates refused to participate in activities and in treatments (most of them were drogue and alcohol addicts).

Breaches of discipline are clearly defined in writing


The disciplinary regime is regulated by:

Disciplinary sanctions can be:

  • individual or collective warning from administration;
  • exclusion from recreational and sport activities (no more than 10 days);
  • isolation (no more than 10 days)
  • exclusion from the collective activities (no more than 15 days)

A regime of special surveillance can also be introduced by DAP on the proposal of the warden or the judicial authority. This regime implies working or taking part to recreational activities, correspondence and phone calls and the possession of specific items that are normally accepted. There can be no limitations to the inmate’s personal care or health needs.

Disciplinary offences are investigated


When a disciplinary offence is registered, the prison staff has to prepare a report and transmit it to the prison warden and the penitentiary police within ten days.

The decision to apply a disciplinary sanction must be subject to an adversarial debate


Prisoners are allowed to be assisted by a lawyer


Decisions concerning the application of disciplinary measures are made by the Disciplinary Council, constituted by the prison warden, an educator and a doctor.

Prisoners may appeal against disciplinary sanctions


Disciplinary sanctions can be imposed as a collective punishment


Disciplinary sanctions have an impact on the length of the sentence. Inmates who are subject to disciplinary sanctions cannot be granted an early release or any other type of sentence adjustment measure.

Solitary confinement can be used as

  • punishment
  • protection
  • security

Solitary confinement for judicial reasons can be applied by the judge during the preliminary investigations. However, the law fails to establish a specific time limit for pre-trial detainees, leaving this decision to the discretion of the judge.

Solitary confinement for life-sentenced inmates should be applied 24 hours a day. However, lifers should also be allowed to work and participate in educational activities, trainings and religious practices. In reality, they are often excluded from all common activities, especially if they are under 41-bis regime.

  • As of January 24th 2017, there were 409 inmates placed in solitary confinement.

Solitary confinement is decided

a disciplinary council

This council is composed by the prison warden, a doctor and an educator.

The duration for placement in solitary confinement is limited

yes, 15 days

Inmates sometimes return to their cells after this period, for a few hours, and are brought back to solitary confinement.

Solitary confinement can be extended


Solitary confinement can sometimes last several months because the renewal of the measure is not subject to any limitations.

The solitary confinement measure is subject to regular review

The decision to place a prisoner in solitary confinement can be subject to adversarial debate. During the hearing in front of the disciplinary council, the inmate does not have the opportunity to defend himself by presenting evidences and witnesses.

The CPT and the ECtHR have criticised the 41-bis regime. Inmates have to spend 22 hours per day in confinement, the other two hours can be spent either outside or in common area in small groups (three to four people). In 2017, the CPT recommended to Italian authorities to modify this regime in consideration of international human rights standards.

Inmates placed in solitary confinement should be accommodated in single cells, but this does not happen in practice. It has been reported that in some facilities, inmates in disciplinary isolation are placed in so-called cellaliscia (cells without furniture).

According to the law, inmates placed in solitary confinement have the right to participate in usual activities. This provision is not respected in practice.

Inmates under the regime 14-bis or sorveglianza particolare are not allowed to work, and restrictions can be imposed on their participation in educational programmes, sports, cultural and recreational activities. All prohibitions imposed by this regime create a de facto solitary confinement regime, which the Surveillance Tribunal of Bologna declared to be “without any legal basis” in 2011.

Persons convicted for life sentences spend all day and all night inside their cells.

Nevertheless, they are not banned from communal activities such as work, education or religious services. Therefore, the time spent in complete isolation may be less than 24 hours.

However, as activities are scarce, many lifers may spend a great amount of time alone in their cells.

In the previous penitentiary regulation, which dates back to 1975, the limitations posed to isolated inmates were both related to communication with other inmates and to contact with the outside world (phone calls and visits). However, the current regulation, the D.P.R.230/2000, does not provide these limitations. Legal experts have commented that it can be inferred that telephone calls and visits from relatives, lawyers, amongst other, take place according to the usual rules. Moreover, inmates are allowed to write and receive letters, to keep a radio and to access newspapers.

The only category of inmates who is subjected to formal restrictions is that under 41-bis regime. They can only receive one family visit per month and it can be replaced by a 10 - minutes phone call.