Name of authority in charge of the prison service
Ministry of Justice
Budget of the prison service
dollars - EUR 3,000,000.00
Percentage of the ministerial budget allocated to the prison service
The prison service outsources the management of the facilities to private companies, either partially or fully
The prison service entrusts companies with the day-to-day management of certain facilities (food, commissary, work) through public-private partnerships. This type of partnership is established when constructing new facilities (Vito al Tagliamento, Bolzano) or when renovating old ones (San Vittore, Poggioreale).
The Department of Penitentiary Administration has 11 regional authorities (provveditorati regionali), responsible for applying the guidelines established in Rome on a regional level.
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
The authorities publish official statistics on prison population
Monthly, biannual and annual statistics on the prison population are available on the Ministry of Justice’s website.
The prison service has a computerised record keeping system
Total number of prisoners
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”.
Number of people serving non-custodial sentences
This figure comprises alternatives to prison sentences (10,259 people under house arrest and 1,039 people on temporary release), probation orders (18,636 people), community service orders (8,414 people), security measures (4,192 people) and alternative sanctions (116 people).
Variation in the number of people serving non-custodial sentences
increase of 60,5%
An increase was observed between 2015 and 2020. In 2015, 26,574 non-custodial sentences were issued. This number included 9,491 people on house arrest, 6,557 probation orders and 5,954 community service orders. 1
Ministry of Justice, “Alternative sentences, community service, security measures, alternative sanctions and probation orders”, 2015 (in Italian). ↩
Incarceration rate (per 100,000 inhabitants)
Variation in the incarceration rate
increase of 3.7%
Between 2018 and 20191.
Aebi, M. F., & Tiago, M. M., SPACE I - 2019 – Council of Europe Annual Penal Statistics: Prison populations, p. 31. ↩
Number of admissions
Number of releases
Average length of imprisonment (in months)
Variation in the average length of imprisonment
increase of 7%
In 2017, the average length of imprisonment was 14.3 months.
Variation in the prison density
increase of 11.5%
In 2015, prison density amounted to 107.9%.
Overcrowding is an issue for specific types of prison facilities
Some correctional facilities (Como, Taranto, Larino) have an occupancy rate of almost 200%.
The country has been condemned by an international court for its prison overcrowding
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has condemned Italy on several occasions over the past few years for the overcrowding of its prisons:
- Sulejmanovic vs. Italy (2009) case: the ECHR concluded that there had been a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of torture) of the European Convention on Human Rights, concerning the lack of space in cells. The government granted special powers to local prison services and ordered the construction of 18 new prisons.
- Torreggiani et al. vs. Italy (2013) case: the ECHR condemned the country for prison overcrowding and inhuman living conditions. The Court made a pilot judgment urging Italy to implement reforms to reduce prison overcrowding.
A supervisory body has issued a decision on prison overcrowding
In 2019, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) visited correctional facilities across Italy. It noted cases of overcrowding in most facilities.1
European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Report to the Italian Government on the visit carried out from 12 to 22 March 2019, p. 8. ↩
The Italian prison system has several different categories of facilities:
- the case circondariali (CC), detention centres for defendants on remand and convicts with sentences of less than 5 years
- the case di reclusione (CR), for prisoners serving long-term sentences
- the Istituti penali per i minorenni (IPM), for minors.
There are special facilities and units for female prisoners. Some called Istituto a custodia attenuata per detenute madri (ICAM) (open prisons for incarcerated mothers) allow women to keep their children with them.
Over the course of their imprisonment, prisoners’ sentences may be turned into a placement in a casa de lavoro (work house) or in a colonie penale (penal farm).
The Residenze per l’esecuzione delle misure di sicurezza (REMS) (Residences for the execution of security measures) are reserved for those deemed not responsible for their own actions or serving a security measure at the end of their sentence. These facilities have replaced the judicial hospitals (Ospedali psichiatrici giudiziari, OPG) since 2016.
Total number of prison facilities
Total official capacity of the prison facilities
Variation in the capacity of the prison facilities
increase of 1.5%
Increase observed between 2015 and 2020. In 2015, there were 49,943 spaces in prison facilities.
Most facilities had between 100 and 500 spaces. The largest prison in the country is Poggioreale in Naples, with 1,689 spaces. The smallest is Grossetto prison, with 14 spaces.
Prison facilities are accessible by public transport
Prison facilities were gradually relocated from historic urban centres to suburban or even rural areas over the course of the second half of the 20th century.
Number of prison guards (FTE)
Italian prison guards belong to a police force named Corpo di polizia penitenziaria (Penitentiary Police).
Guard to prisoner ratio
This ratio was calculated from the number of officers within the penitentiary police. Many of whom hold positions outside of detention facilities.
Number of socio-educational workers (FTE)
Percentage of socio-educational workers in relation to the entire prison staff
The prison staff is represented by (a) union(s)
Prison staff can be represented by various different trade unions: the Independent Trade Union for Penitentiary Police (Sindacato autonomo polizia penitenziaria, SAPPE), the Independent Trade Union Organisation for Penitentiary Police (OSAPP), the Trade Union for Penitentiary Police (UILPA-PP) or the National Independent Trade Union for Penitentiary Police (SINAPPE).
All those applying for a role within the penitentiary police must:
- be in full possession of their civil rights
- be under 28 years old
- have a secondary school qualification (grade 2)
- pass a competitive theory exam
- pass psychological and physical tests
The initial nine-month training course is provided by ten or so schools across Italy. A Master’s qualification in prison and constitutional law is also provided in collaboration with the University of Rome III.
Further training is delegated to regional departments and made available to penitentiary police officers throughout their career.
The basic average income of a prison officer, including allowances and bonuses, is approximately EUR 1,800 per month.