The European Court of Human Rights ruled on a case brought in 2009 by seven inmates in two separate prisons who complained that they each were forced to share a 9 square-meter (10.8-squard yard) cell with two other people, giving each inmate 3 square meters (3.6 square yards) of personal space. The men also said they didn’t have regular hot water or lighting.
The Strasbourg-based court found that the conditions did indeed amount to a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights’ prohibition against torture and human or degrading treatment. While saying there was no indication that Italy intended to humiliate the prisoners, the court found that the inmates’ conditions subjected them to excessive hardships.
Italian Justice Minister Paola Severino, who had made reforming Italy’s prison system a priority when she came into office a year ago, said she was “disheartened” but not surprised by the decision.
The Italian government in 2010 declared a state of emergency for its overcrowded prisons, calling for the creation of 47 prison annexes to boost capacity by more than 20,000 inmates and for legislation allowing house arrest as an alternative to prison for certain sentences.
The Italian prison rights group Antigone estimates that Italian prisons are currently at 142 percent capacity, with some individual prisons at 268 percent capacity.
The legislation, however, failed to pass in the Senate last year — a point bitterly raised by Severino and Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, who in his end-of-the-year speech to lawmakers lamented their failure to act on such a critical issue.