Death in prison awaiting trial

Death in prison awaiting trial

Rita Bernardini: “Zero Effect” of Pre-Trial Detention Law

Damages also for the community: in 24 years, 630 million euro in compensation

“Zero Effect. Nothing. The law on pre-trial detention issued in April of 2015 has produced no effect whatsoever, while Minister of Justice Andrea Orlando defined it a “legislative effort” during a Parliamentary hearing at the beginning of March.”

Rita Bernardini, in hunger strike for over 28 days now, highlights the actual numbers: “The overall percentage of prisoners awaiting trial is down 0,04%, with a 0% variation in numbers of those awaiting first judgment (17,56% before and 17,56% today). Meanwhile, over the course of one month the prison population has increased by 548.”

Bernardini began her nonviolent action following the eleventh suicide in prison since the start of this year, focussing her efforts on the draft bill on penitentiary reform approved two years ago by Parliament and now seemingly lost in the Senate. Responding to questions on the number of suicides in prison, Minister Orlando said: “The legislative efforts sustained over the past three years are well known (culminating in the approval of Law N° 47 of April 16, 2015), aiming at using pre-trial detention as an extreme precautionary measure, to be applied only in the presence of present and specific precautionary needs that cannot be ensured in any other way”.

In fact, the application of the norms on pre-trial detention do not appear to have produced any positive results and there remains an abusive use of pre-trial detention measures. Suffice it to take a close look at the numbers to prove this: at the time of the Torreggiani Judgment (the European Court for Human Rights condemned Italy for inhumane or degrading treatment suffered by detainees) on January 8, 2013, the number of detainees awaiting trial represented 38,72% of the prison population, while those awaiting first judgment represented 18,87%. This means that to date there has been a decline of 3,85% in those awaiting trial, and of 1,31% in those awaiting first judgment, a slight reduction achieved before the 2015 Law on pre-trial detention.

When comparing the data from the moment the Law on pre-trial detention was passed (April 16, 2015) to today’s data, we witness a variation from 34,91% to 34,87%. This clearly shows, as mentioned above, that the Law produced an effect of 0,04% for those awaiting judgment, and of 0% for those awaiting first trial.

It is obvious that such a consolidated and hard-to-change system creates damages for the individual deprived of his/her liberty. In about half of the cases those detained pending trial will be declared innocent at the end of legal proceedings. However, judging times are endless: there is a likely risk of spending three years in prison before obtaining a first degree criminal sentence. This produces grave physical and moral damages, resulting in a direct cost for the entire community as well.

Between 1992 and 2016, 24.000 innocent persons have served time in prison, and unjust detention has cost the tax payer 630 million euros in compensation to these victims. Victims of an unjust justice system that will forever bear the cost provoked by the time spent in prison. When you walk past the treshold of a prison for the first time, space becomes more limited, while time becomes infinite. The uncertainty of when judgment will be passed and with what sentence are destabilizing factors. Every passing day brings more anguish over one’s own future and the future of loved ones at home. The risk of suicide for new arrivals is very high in this initial period. Needless then to wonder why or be outraged when one decides to tie a sheet around his neck and hang himself.


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