Postcard from... Rome


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The Independent Online

It was a gesture to prisoner welfare that's hard to imagine taking place in Britain: last week celebrated violinist Uto Ughi led his orchestra in a performance for 300 inmates at Rome's Rebibbia prison as part of government plans to promote better conditions in Italy's over-crowded jails.

"The concert mirrors the spirit of the measures the government is introducing to boost respect for prisoners' rights," read a message sent by Italian justice minister Paola Severino. Ms Severino is considered one of Italy's top criminal defence lawyers, and has said she is committed to improving conditions in Italian prisons.

Yet another reminder of how grim these conditions are came last month when a 51-year-old inmate in the northern town of Biella committed suicide overnight, using his shoelaces to hang himself from the window grating of his cell, where he was being held in isolation.

Figures show that 186 people died in Italian prisons in 2011, and 118 since the beginning of the year, 41 of them suicides.

The Gazzetta Del Sud newspaper quoted the Penitentiary Police Union leader Leo Beneduci as describing the situation in the country's jails as "a full-out massacre that needs to be stopped at all costs".

A prisoner in the Rome jail told Mr Ughi after his performance that: "This evening, you filled us with nobility and elegance. "It didn't free us, but it has made us more noble".

It seems that even some of the prisoners are aware of the need for incarceration to reform as well as punish them.