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There are regular prevention campaigns waged against HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, and other communicable diseases.

  • Alessandro Luciani, of the Prison Employees Union (SINAPPE), denounced the “lack of organisation” regarding the management of the virus. The measures taken to ensure that prison employees were protected remained insufficient as the number of infected inmates kept increasing. The supply of sanitizers was still very limited.

    / Rete 8
  • The Naples Bar Association requested that the Italian authorities give priority to prisoners in COVID-19 vaccination campaigns. At that stage, only prison officers were classed as priority.

    / Il Riformista
  • Daniela Caputo, secretary of the National association of penitentiary police civil servants and executives (Associazione Nazionale Funzionari e Dirigenti di Polizia Penitenziaria), called for the vaccination of prisoners against COVID-19 as a priority, instead of resorting to early release measures.

    / ADN Kronos

Around 70% of prisoners suffer from one or more illnesses.
Drug addictions, psychiatric disorders, dental problems, respiratory or cardiovascular problems, and hepatitis C are the most common. Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS both affect a relatively large part of the prison population. Health professionals regularly point to the pathogenic nature of the prison environment.

  • The Antigone association kept a record of the number of coronavirus contaminations and related deaths in prisons. During the first wave of the pandemic, 160 prisoners tested positive and the prison service registered four deaths. Two people died in December 2020, and the total of positive cases exceeded 1000. The number of contaminations decreased again between February and March 2021, when it reached 480 new cases. Two other persons died within the same period, thus bringing the total COVID-19 death toll in prisons to 18.

    / Antigone

Allegations of violence or ill-treatment have been reported. In 2019, the CPT reported violence and ill-treatment towards prisoners in the facilities they had visited. The acts were usually committed out of sight of video surveillance, for example in the staircases.1

  1. European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, “Report to the Italian Government on the Visit from 12–22 March 2019”, 2020, pp. 11-15. 

  • Police arrested 52 prison officers in Santa Maria Capua prison on suspicion of mistreating prisoners while quelling a riot. The riot started on 6 April 2020 and was triggered by a case of COVID-19.

    / Ansa

The law provides for a sentence adjustment for medical reasons


Prisoners who are ill may be placed under house arrest.

  • The Supreme Court ruled in favor of revising the sentence of prisoners with serious diseases and at risk of complications in case of infection with the coronavirus. This decision was to be applied even if there were no reports of infection in the facility.

    / Il Meridiano

Variation in the number of prisoners

increase of 17,38%

Increase observed between 2015 and 2020. In 2015, there were 52,164 prisoners in Italy.

  • The coronavirus pandemic led to a 12.3% decrease in the prison population. 61,230 people were incarcerated as of 29 February 2020, and 53,697 as of 29 February 2021. According to the NGO Antigone, the decrease was not directly due to house arrest reforms: “The situation is very simply more manageable because of judges’ goodwill, rather than governmental or parliamentary restrictions”.

    / La corriere della sera

Prisoners sentenced to life are eligible for parole after having served over 26 years and if they are deemed not to pose a threat to themselves or others (article 176 of criminal code.

Those who are deemed dangerous and mafia members who refuse to collaborate with the justice department, classified as 41-bis, are not eligible for parole. This designation is called the “ergastolo ostativo.”

  • The Court ordered the release of Giovanni Brusca, ex-boss of the Cosa Nostra. His sentence remission for good conduct was accompanied by four years of surveillance.

    / L’Espresso
  • The Constitutional Court, the highest court in the country, regards sentences handed out to persons found guilty of crimes linked to the mafia as unconstitutional. Mafia members and bosses are currently sentenced for life without possibility of sentence revision, to “l’ergastolo ostativo”, unless they cooperate with the legal system. The Court believes that this provision forces prisoners to make “a tragic choice”: stay in prison or be released to face potential retaliation and thus endanger their families. The Court is giving Parliament a year to change the law.

    / Cour constitutionnelle
  • Marcello dell’Anna has spent the better part of his life in prison. He was sentenced to life ergastolo ostativo at the age of 23, when he was a boss of the Sacra Corona Unita (an Italian mafia based in Puglia).
    Read his written correspondence with Swiss journalist Laurence Bolomey.

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

only in the legislation

Parliament approved the law of 14 July 2017 explicitly prohibiting torture. This is reflected in Articles 613-bis and 613-ter of the penal code.

  • A prison officer was found guilty of torturing an inmate at Ferrara Prison and was sentenced to three years in prison. This is the first case since the crime of torture was introduced into the penal code in 2017.

    / la Repubblica

Carceral mental health facilities (ospedali psichiatrici giudiziari, OPG) were permanently closed in 2015. They were replaced by residences for the execution of security measures (residenze per l’esecuzione delle misure di sicurezza, REMS), under the authority of the Ministry of Justice. Those prisoners deemed to not be in control of their actions and to be dangerous are placed there.
Twenty-five prisons have dedicated areas for those with mental health problems (articolazioni per la tutella della salute mentale, ATSM).
A sizable portion of the incarcerated population suffers from psychological problems, and many of those affected are kept in unfurnished disciplinary cells (celle liscie) or in the general population.

  • As of 2018, there were 629 prisoners placed in REMS.

    Antigone, Fifteenth Report on Prison Conditions

Individuals or organisations from the outside are allowed to participate in prison activities

  • As of 2018, there were 16,838 external participants and volunteers.

    Ministry of Justice, "Attività trattamentali – Volontariato"

Those imprisoned for crimes based on Islamic terrorism are classified as High Security 2 (AS2) and are closely regulated by the Nucleo investigativo centrale (NIC), the intelligence unit for the prison service. AS2 prisoners are most often subject to solitary confinement. The NIC also monitors prisoners suspected of radicalisation.1

  1. Antigone, Fifteenth Report on Prison Conditions, 2019 (in Italian). 

  • As of 18 October 2018, there were 66 persons imprisoned for crimes based on Islamic terrorism. Only 6% of them had been definitively convicted. As of the same date, there were 356 prisoners suspected of radicalisation and under surveillance by the NIC.

    Antigone, Fifteenth Report on Prison Conditions

The most represented religions in prison are Catholicism, Islam, and Orthodox Christianity.

  • The latest official statistics on the faiths of prisoners are from 2016. As of 31 December 2016, Catholic prisoners represent 54.7% of the incarcerated population. Muslims and Orthodox Christians represent 11.4% and 4.2% respectively. A large number of prisoners refused to respond to the questionnaire.

    Antigone, Fifteenth Report on Prison Conditions

Prisoners are allowed to pass diplomas and entry examinations

  • The number of prisoners that obtained a university degree in 2018 was 28. The most popular higher education courses are in social sciences and politics, literature, and law.

    Ministry of Justice, "Attività trattamentali – Università"

Individual acts of protest are recorded


  • In 2018, the prison administration recorded 11,178 individual acts of protest.

    / Ristretti

Collective movements are recorded


  • In 2018, the prison administration recorded 1,082 collective acts of protest.

    / Ristretti

The prison service provides food that respects special dietary needs


Specific diets are offered to people suffering from medical ailments, such as diabetes. Several establishments offer halal meals. Muslims are allowed to have their meal after sunset during Ramadan.

  • The Antigone association reports that out of a hundred prisons visited in 2018, 75 offer a halal diet.

    Antigone, Fifteen report on conditions of detention

The prison service keeps a record of prisoners with disabilities

  • As of 2015, the number of prisoners with physical or motor impairments was 628. Less than half of them are placed in accessible cells.

Specific sentences or rulings are reserved for minors, such as probation or an alternative sentence served in a home or a community centre. (comunità).

  • As of 15 February 2020, there were 13,384 sentences and trials of minors and young adults.

    / Minister of Justice

There are several different prison regimes:

  • The semi-open regime: under which the majority of prisoners have been placed since 2013. The cell doors stay open for between eight and fourteen hours per day, depending on the facility. The administration implements dynamic security, allowing greater autonomy for the prisoners.
  • The alta sicurezza (AS) regime: a closed, high security regime, based on Articles 4-bis and 14-bis. It is broken down into three categories, depending on the type of criminal offence: AS1 (organised crime), AS2 (terrorism) and AS3 (drug trafficking). They are kept away from the rest of the prison population.
  • The 41-bis regime: a special prison regime for prisoners charged with acts of terrorism, organised or mafia crime. This stricter high security system was specially designed to break all ties between the prisoners and fellow inmates who may be involved in the same criminal cases. Prisoners under the 41-bis regime are placed under constant surveillance in units reserved for solitary confinement. Time outside of the cell is limited to one hour. The possession of personal belongings is subject to prior authorisation from the administration. All communications with the outside are tightly monitored.1

As of 3 January 2019, there was a total of 748 prisoners under the 41-bis regime.2

  1. Antigone, Fifteenth report on detention conditions, 2019 (in Italian). 

  2. Ibid. 

  • As of 3 January 2019, there was a total of 748 prisoners under the 41-bis regime.

    / Antigone, Fifteenth report on detention conditions, 2019 (in Italian).