2022 will be the year with the most suicides in Italian prisons: there are already 78 people who have committed suicide in the last ten months, 4 among prison policemen and 74 among prisoners. Of these, 65 hanged themselves, eight asphyxiated themselves with gas, another cut his veins and bled to death. Almost one in four (20) was under the age of thirty. The youngest, two inmates from Milan San Vittore and Ascoli Piceno, were just 21. The latest suicide took place in the Syracuse prison on 29 October. The agents found the hanged man in his cell. He was 34 years old.
The dossier Morire di prison by Ristretti Orizzonti (the newspaper of the Padua prison and the Giudecca Women’s Penalty Institute) also includes 23 inmates who died from causes yet to be ascertained. Suicides, in short, could be even more.
In the Foggia prison there were four suicides: “Organized crime controls the institute, the territory and the institutions do not respond, the structure is overcrowded, inadequate both in terms of space and of personnel and health services. It’s a perfect storm ”, explains the guarantor of the prisoners of Puglia, Piero Rossi.
Many of the inmates who committed suicide were in jail for minor offenses and would soon be released. Tabet Abderraim had been arrested for resisting a public official, after a dispute broke out because he had not paid for the train ticket. A few hours after his arrival at the Brindisi prison, the agents found him in his cell with a noose around his neck. He was 22 years old.
Another boy had been arrested for injuries and threats, he had just eight months in prison in Ascoli Piceno. He hanged himself in his cell by tying the sheets to the bathroom window.
At the end of April, another inmate hanged himself with shoelaces in the Foggia prison. He would be out in June, just over a month later. Alessandro Gaffoglio, on the other hand, was 24 years old and ended up in Turin prison for robbing two supermarkets, for a loot of about a thousand euros. He was unprecedented, it was his first time in the cell. He lasted two weeks, then choked on a nylon bag.
Many inmates had already attempted suicide, were drug addicts or suffered from mental problems. Some had been waiting for months for a place in a Rems, the residences for the execution of security measures for the guilty of crimes with mental disorders: “In San Vittore today there are nine inmates with mental problems. They should be in a clinic, not in a prison ”, observes the guarantor of the prisoners of Milan, Francesco Maisto. One of them was Giacomo Trimarco, just 21, who suffered from borderline personality disorder and was in a cell for stealing a mobile phone. He killed himself on May 31 by asphyxiating himself with gas. Eight months earlier the Milan court had established his incompatibility with prison.
Simone Melard was 44 years old and was in Caltagirone prison for stealing a mobile phone and a wallet, which he then returned to their rightful owners. He too suffered from severe psychiatric disorders and had long been on the waiting list to join an Assisted Therapeutic Community (CTA) to be treated. A woman who knew him sent this testimony to the Antigone association: “he was a fragile subject, he lived on alms and several times I saw him rummaging through the rubbish. He was often beaten up for fun by neighborhood bullies. In June they posted a video on TikTok where he slept in his pajamas in a garbage can. When I found out, I thought it was a death foretold. The constitution says that the penalty should re-educate the offender. And instead Simone lost his life in that prison ”.
Most suicides take place in the largest and most overcrowded prisons in Italy, almost always in prison homes. These institutions are designed for inmates awaiting trial or with sentences of less than five years. But they also often host convicts with serious and final sentences, who are left in these structures not equipped for such long detention: “The prison houses are the gateway to the penitentiary system, so they are the first institutions to fill beyond capacity” , explains the guarantor of the Lazio detainees, Stefano Anastasia. In Foggia, Regina Coeli and Monza the crowding rate is around 150 percent. On 30 September, there were 1,125 inmates in the Lecce prison, for a regulatory capacity of 796.
The prisons are overcrowded, but there is a lack of staff who should watch them. According to the secretary of Uilpa Penitentiary Police, Gennarino de Fazio, “at least another 18 thousand agents would be needed, half of the total requirement, which is 36 thousand”.
There is also a lack of who should take care of the mental health of prisoners, a crucial aspect for suicide prevention. According to the Antigone association, on average in Italian prisons the psychiatrist is only there for ten hours a week for every hundred people, and the psychologist for twenty hours. In prisons where more suicides have occurred, these numbers drop. In Palermo, for example, psychiatrists and psychologists are only there for 5.1 hours a week. Deficiencies that make the already precarious mental health of those in prison even more unstable.
In the first eight months of the year, there were 10.5 serious psychiatric diagnoses for every 100 inmates. One fifth of inmates take mood stabilizers, antipsychotics and antidepressants, while nearly four out of ten use sedatives or hypnotics on a regular basis. According to the latest data from the World Health Organization, 0.67 people are killed in Italy for every ten thousand inhabitants. In prison this number rises to 13 for every ten thousand inmates. Inside, in short, we commit suicide twenty times more than outside.
During her inauguration speech in the chamber, Giorgia Meloni also dedicated a few words to the prison issue: “These deaths are unworthy of a civilized country, as are often the working conditions of prison police officers”, said the president. of the board. A few days later his minister of justice, Carlo Nordio, assured: “The emergencies of the prison will be one of my priorities”.
To solve them both spoke of a new penitentiary building plan. According to Anastasia it is a false solution: “In the last 25 years the capacity of our institutes has increased by 15 thousand places. But the number of detainees also increased over the same period. Places will never be enough, building new prisons is useless “. For the national coordinator of Antigone, Susanna Marietti, we should instead “rethink criminal policies, those that decide who ends up in prison”.