Why should people in the US be interested in the Italian prison system?
The reasons behind the new 2WEL Working Paper "Work and forgiveness behind bars. Giotto Cooperative in Due palazzi prison in Padua"
29 maggio 2015

Why should people in the US be interested in the Italian prison system?

Are the two systems similar with respect to the number of prisoners?

According to the latest data by Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2013 the prison population in the United States was 2,227,500 people, divided into local, state, and federal prisons, i.e. 910 prisoners every 100,000 inhabitants. According to ISTAT (Italian National Statistical Institute), in the same period in Italy, prisoners were 62,536, i.e. 104 every 100,000 inhabitants. The answer to the question is therefore no: the two models have no similarities. They display huge differences.

Maybe, then, the United States should be interested in the governance of the Italian system?

This is unlikely to be true, since Italy has recently experienced extreme difficulties in managing its prison population, despite the fact that prisoners in Italian jails are 35 times less than those in US jails and that the prisoners-to-population ratio in Italy is 9 times lower than in the US. Italy has repeatedly been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights for its overcrowded prisons (maximum capacity is about 45,000 units) and for the very bad conditions prisoners are forced to live in.

They might want to understand how good we are in avoiding recidivism?

May be that our prison system, notwithstanding the above mentioned faults, is able to guarantee full rehabilitation (as expressly stated in point 3 of Article 27 of the Italian Constitution) to prisoners. Also in this case we have a negative answer, since the US and Italy are basically facing the same kind of problems. Considering that available data for both scenarios are generally old and incomplete, statistics in the two countries concerning reoffending rates are fairly similar. In the USA, 77% of released inmates are re-arrested in the next 5 years (data collected in 30 States from 2005 to 2010). In Italy, (according to a report by the Ministero della Giustizia published in 2007 with reference to the pardon of 2006) the percentage of re-offenders was around 68%. However, since only for 21% of criminal offences end up with an arrest, the actual rate is estimated to be between 80% and 90%. Therefore, both in the US and in Italy, at least 8 released prisoners out of 10 repeat offences after they have served a sentence.

Cooperative companies: best practices in the Italian prison system

At a closer look, the Italian system has a few valuable best practices as to the rehabilitation of prisoners, even in a perspective of reducing recidivism. We are talking of Social Cooperative Companies that have been developing working activities for prisoners inside Italian prisons leveraging on the provisions of an Act dated 2000 (Legge Smuraglia 193/2000). Prisoners are effectively supported in their rehabilitation process with a view to their social reintegration. As we have already reported, Cooperative companies, especially those that serve as vocational trainers and actually teach prisoners a job, help reduce difficulties in finding employment after release, guarantee a wage to prisoners so that they can support their families and, especially, contribute to the re-birth, flourishing and persisting of expressions of humanity that would be dramatically suffocated by prison life.

Cooperativa Giotto gathered interest from over the ocean

One of these Cooperative Companies attracted the attention of Fetzer Institute, an important American philantrophic organization that is collaborating with CESEN, a research center of Milan Catholic University, and Percorsi di secondo welfare to produce a research on Cooperativa Giotto in Padova. This is the origin of a new working paper issued within 2WEL series, “Work and forgiveness behind bars. Giotto Cooperative in Due palazzi prison in Padua” edited by Andrea Perrone, Tommaso Bardelli, Pauline Bernard, and Rachele Greco. The paper reviews the over-twenty-year history of Giotto Cooperative, the various tasks it introduced into Padua prison and the best practices it developed to rehabilitate prisoners. This paper also reports outcomes from several interviews to prisoners who presently work in the Cooperative, which clearly reveal some peculiar aspects of the "Giotto model".

The new 2WEL Working Paper presentend in Regina Coeli prison, Rome

The working paper was presented on May 20 in Rome, in a totally unconventional location: the Regina Coeli prison. The event, moderated by the Italian journalist Luciano Ghelfi, was introduced by Santi Consolo, Chief of the Italian Correctional Administration Department. After the presentation of the research by Andrea Perrone, Professor of Commercial Law at Catholic University of the Sacred Heart and Director of CESEN in Milano, three contributions examined innovative rehabilitation experiences in Brazil, Germany and the US. These experiences were presented respectively by the Brazilian magistrate Luiz Carlos Rezende E Santos, former member of Consejo Nacional de Justicia; Jürgen Hillmer from Bremen University and Senator für Justiz und Verfassung, and Thomas J. Dart, Cook County Sheriff (Chicago). Works were concluded by Paola Severino, former Minister of Justice of the Italian Republic.


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