Problems with pardons

Italians unhappy with prisoners’ release

Editorial Staff
January 25, 2007

A mass prisoner pardon recently approved by parliament re--mains deeply unpopular with Italians, a new poll confirmed last week. The survey by independent socioeconomic think-tank Eurispes said two-thirds of respondents were firmly against the measure, which resulted in the release of some 18,000 prisoners.

Eurispes said only 14 percent supported the pardon while almost 60 percent thought it had undermined citizens’ safety. The pardon, approved by parliament in July with cross-party consensus, knocked three years off sentences, with the aim of easing chronic overcrowding in Italy’s jails. It did not apply to serious crimes such as Mafia offences, terrorism, rape, pedophilia and human trafficking.

According to official prison data, 17,455 inmates were freed, along with another 5,000 who were being detained under house arrest. The pardon controversially covered all crimes committed before May 2, 2006, making it applicable to past, present and future sentences. Given the slow pace of the Italian trial system, which allows two appeals before a sentence is considered definitive, the pardon will have an effect for years to come.

The Supreme Council of Magistrates, the body in charge of Italy’s judiciary, recently protested that 80 percent of pending trials were now futile. But ordinary Italians have been concerned about the possibility of released inmates re-offending. More than 1,700 beneficiaries of the pardon have been sent back to jail.

Justice Minister Clemente Mastella and other supporters of the measure argue that it was an essential act of clemency to improve allegedly inhumane prison conditions. Before the pardon, Italy’s 205 prisons were holding 61,400 inmates when their official capacity was just 41,730. But another controversial aspect of the pardon was its application to financial, accounting and corruption crimes. Critics have pointed out that the number of prisoners serving time for such crimes was extremely low, so that this could not be defended in terms of easing prison overcrowding.

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