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Somali prisoner commits suicide in Lecce penitentiary

Monday, January 07, 2013

Italy's jails continue to suffer overcrowding

Lecce, January 7 - Italian Penitentiary Police Union (OSAPP) said on Monday that a 38-year-old Somali man committed suicide Sunday afternoon in the Borgo San Nicola penitentiary near the southern city of Lecce by hanging himself in the prison's infirmary cell.

Mohamed Abdi, who was serving time for theft, had been in the Lecce prison for approximately one year. OSAPP representative Domenico Mastrulli said that the prison, located in the region of Puglia, is "beset by several problems, first and foremost overcrowding". Roughly 60 prisoners in Italy commit suicide each year, approximately 20 times average for the general population, according to a study released in December.

The Permanent Observatory on Prison Deaths also found that 10 penitentiary police take their lives annually - a rate that exceeds the norm by a factor of three and ranks highest among the various branches of Italy's security forces. Contrary to most suicides, which are usually tied to personal events, a comparative study found that at least two-thirds of Italian prison suicide cases are due to "environmental factors".

 The environmental factors in question do not refer to the prison environment per se but to "illegal" detention conditions, the study reported. The prison population has almost doubled in 40 years whereas prison capacity has only increased by 10,000 places. Marco Pannella, the historic leader of Italy's Radical Party, recently held a nine-day thirst-and-hunger strike to call for an amnesty to stop chronic overcrowding in Italy's jails, and for prisoners to be given the right to vote.


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