Page last updated at 18:16 GMT, Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Italy declares state of emergency on jail overcrowding

Exterior of prison in Perugia, Italy
Many prisons in Italy suffer from overcrowding

The Italian government has declared a state of emergency over its prison system, saying it needs to create an additional 20,000 places for inmates.

After a cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi described the current situation as "unacceptable".

Nearly 65,000 inmates are currently crowded into a total of 44,000 available places.

Mr Berlusconi said the government would allocate additional funds to build an extra 47 prison wings.

An additional 2,000 guards would also be employed, Italian media reported.

Swollen population

Italian Justice Minister Angelino Alfano said the state of emergency would last until the end of the year.

"We have allocated 600m euros [£534m] for the construction of 47 new prisons," he said.

The Italian government has over recent years introduced a series of measures to reduce the swollen prison population, including pardons.

"In the past there have been pardons and amnesties but we want to create a solution that lasts," Mr Berlusconi said.

"A civil state removes the liberty of those who have committed an offence and have been judged guilty in court," he said.

"But it does not take away the dignity or harm the health of its prisoners."

The government will also introduce a bill allowing those with a year left of their sentence to serve it at home, under house arrest.

Those who face a sentence of up to three years will be given the option of probation if they agree to undertake "socially useful" work instead, the justice minister said.

But the BBC's Duncan Kennedy, in Rome, says critics argue that building more prisons is not the solution to overcrowding. They argue that the numbers of inmates would be lower if those with drug abuse problems were in hospitals instead of prisons.

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