Ministry in charge

Ministry of Health and Local Health Authorities

Since 2008, access to health care has been entrusted to the National Health Service (Servizio Sanitario Nazionale, SSN) and local health authorities (Aziende Sanitarie Locale, ASL).

Every prison facility has a health care unit


Each facility has an infirmary and a pharmacy (Article 11 of the Prison Rules).

  • A unit dedicated to the treatment of neurological conditions was opened at the Bari facility. Prisoners can now consult a team made up of a neurologist, a neuropsychologist and a cardiovascular specialist. This unit was opened as part of the “Brainspace” project, implemented by the prison service in partnership with the region’s health services.


Number of medical staff (FTE)


/ World Health Organization, Health in Prisons, 2019

The most recent national data is from 2008. Health in prisons thereafter became the responsibility of local services, which do not publish statistics for the entire nation.

  • The Guarantor of the Rights of Persons Detained or Deprived of Liberty for the Abruzzo region visited the Sulmona facility. He was accompanied by the vice-president of the regional council. The regional guarantor recommended the hiring of additional health care staff, as they are understaffed at the facility. He also recommended that medical equipment be upgraded, prisoners’ medical files digitised, and remote consultations implemented.


Nurses, a general practitioner, and a psychiatrist are required in each facility. Specialists (such as cardiologists, dentists, and ophthalmologists) can have regular office hours or can come to the prison for consultations. A prisoner can call upon an outside doctor at his or her own cost. 1

Material differences exist from one region to another. In 2019, the CPT noted the alarming state of numerous infirmary sites.2

  • A Nigerian prisoner injured his foot with a piece of iron. His injury worsened during his stay in prison. He was moved to Catania hospital and had his leg amputated. He left detention and requested a prosthetic to be able to return to normal life. His prosthetic was manufactured by a social centre, but the former prisoner was required to wait until his medical file had been sent over by the prison administration before he was able to obtain the prosthetic.

    / Ansa It
  • The National Guarantor of the Rights of Persons Detained or Deprived of Liberty (Garante nazionale dei diritti delle persone detenute o private della libertà personale) announced the introduction of telemedicine for prisoners. A test run was planned in Montacuto prison. The National Guarantor highlighted the lack of medical personnel in prison, which had been exacerbated with the health crisis. He called for the deployment of ambulances to prisons to treat prisoners on site.

    / Ansa It

Prisoners for whom the pathology requires can be transferred to a regional civilian hospital.
Certain hospitals have a service adapted to receiving prisoners.

Health care is free


A medical examination is performed upon admission


Physical and mental examinations, including taking blood, are performed for each admission.

A medical file is opened upon admission


Prisoners can access health care units after

a written request or an oral request

A prisoner may request a consultation by means of a form. He or she can request an emergency consultation by telling the guard on duty.

Medical examinations are carried out on a confidential basis


The NPM and the CPT note the presence of guards during many medical consultations.1

  1. Garante nazionale dei diritti delle persone detenute o private della libertà personale, Report to Parliament - Relazione al Parlamento, 2019, p. 72; CPT, Report to the Italian government on the Visit from 12–22 March 2019, p. 47 (in Italian). 

Article 11 of the Prison Rules provides for a continuity of care, despite transfers and changes in status. The respect for this continuity is, however, hindered by the limited number of health professionals.

Each prison has a pharmacy. Health care personnel are responsible for distributing medication. Access to medications not stocked within the pharmacy is limited.
As of 2019, prisoners taking psychotropic medications (antidepressants, sleep aids, anti-anxiety medicine) represent 30% of the incarcerated population.

Hospitalisation is provided when care cannot be administered in prison. Transfers to and consultations in a hospital are often slowed by the lack of penitentiary police staff.1

  1. European Prison Observatory, Prison Conditions in Italy, 2019, p. 24 (in English). 

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.

Sick prisoners generally receive proper treatment. Disparities exist among the various regions, and transfers can cause breakdowns in care.
Antigone notes the lack of psychological support in the handling of certain treatments.

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

Measures for reducing risk (condoms, syringes, etc.) are not implemented.

A significant portion of the prison population suffers from mental illness. The NGO Antigone reports, in 2021, that 7% of prisoners had a serious psychiatric diagnosis and that 26% used mood stabilisers, antipsychotics or antidepressants.
Many patients are locked up in disciplinary cells without furniture (celle liscie) or in ordinary wards.1 Twenty-five “ATSM” (articolazioni per la tutella della salute mentale) wards are dedicated to the care of people with severe mental disorders. These wards, located within prisons, have teams composed of nurses and social workers. Diagnosis of “mental infirmity” can be carried out to detect the presence of mental disorders in a detainee. Few therapies are provided; medication is the preferred treatment.
The ATSMs are under the authority of the Ministry of Justice, while the medical staff is under the Ministry of Health. The prison administration has the authority to decide whether to transfer an inmate to an ATSM.
Prisoners may be placed in continuous isolation or in the infirmary while awaiting a place in an ATSM. These measures are frequently used. Two members of the association Antigone visited, in 2021, the prison of Turin (Il Sestante). They deplore the disastrous conditions of detention in the psychiatric ward and report a strong shortage of psychiatrists. Seventeen people were placed there at the time of the visit. The ward had 20 cells that were narrow and dirty. The beds were fixed to the floor with little or no bedding. The inmates had no privacy to shower. One inmate had no light for several days. Another had no access to his lawyer. One young inmate was not supposed to be in the facility as he was awaiting transfer to a REMS residence.

Dedicated psychiatric facilities
Persons deemed irresponsible and dangerous are placed in “residences for the execution of security measures” (residenze per l’esecuzione delle misure di sicurezza, REMS). REMS are under the authority of local health agencies, under the Ministry of Health.2 There were 31 in the territory in 2020.3 The number of people placed in REMS as of January 31, 2020 was 616.
These institutions were created after the gradual abolition, until 2015, of the judicial psychiatric hospitals (ospedali psichiatrici giudiziari, OPG). According to the CPT, the Italian authorities and NGOs are concerned about the significant increase in violent behavior by detainees. Attacks on guards, self-harm and inter-prisoner violence have been common since the closure of the OPGs.4

General psychiatric hospitals
Detainees can be transferred in emergency to the “protected medicine” departments of general hospitals, dedicated to detainees, or to the “Psychiatric Unit for Diagnosis and Care” (SPDC) in Turin.

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

  2. Vincent Delbos et al., “Annexes - Evaluation of the first phase of UHSAs in view of the implementation of a second phase”, 2018, p. 117 (In French). 

  3. Garante nazionale dei diritti delle persone detenute o private della libertà personale (MNP), *Report to Parliament - Relazione al Parlamento, Sezione 2, 2020, p. 234 (In French). 

  4. European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT), Report to the Italian Government on the visit to Italy carried out from 12 to 22 March 2019, 2020, p. 11. 

  • According to a January 2022 judgment by the European Court of Human Rights (Sy v. Italy, in French), continuing to hold a person with a mental disorder in the ordinary prison regime despite a transfer decision for a residence for the execution of preventive measures (REMS) constitutes inhuman or degrading treatment (Article 3 of the Convention). The transfer in this case was not carried out due to insufficient space in the REMS. The mental health of the prisoner was deemed incompatible with the ordinary prison regime.

    / Antigone / CEDH

Several prison unions have denounced the over-representation of people suffering from psychological disorders and the lack of personnel training.
Antigone notes the lack of specialised medical personnel.

ASLs suggest methadone-based substitution treatments for drug-addicted prisoners.

  • A man was arrested after visiting his brother detained in Via dei Tigli prison. He was accused of drug trafficking. He gave his imprisoned brother a packed of Subutex tablets, a medication used primarily in opioid substitution treatments.

    / Ansa It