After a spectacular escape, the structures of confinement of minors implicated in Italy

For the guards of the Beccaria prison, Christmas Day was far from having looked like a fairy tale. In the afternoon of December 25, seven teenagers from this remand center for minors located in the suburbs of Milan indeed managed to escape before fainting in nature. Taking advantage of the distraction of a guard gone to get a soccer ball, the fugitives, aged 17 to 19, managed to knock down the partitions that covered the scaffolding surrounding the prison structure under construction. A spectacular escape, without violence. “This is the first time in several decades that we have witnessed the escape of seven prisoners from a detention center for minors, they took advantage of a series of loopholes”comments Ciro Cascone, public prosecutor at the Milan Juvenile Court.

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Thursday, December 29, the seven escapees had all been found, some of them having spontaneously returned to prison. “The priority is for the work to be completed as quickly as possible and to ensure that the execution of sentences for minors is dignified, aims at rehabilitation and does not simply take the form of punishment”, commented the undersecretary of justice Andrea Ostellari, after the return of the last two prisoners.

For many observers of the Italian prison environment, Beccaria’s escape was predictable. “The contrast is striking between the perpetually expanding district and the prison site in eternal restructuring and of which there is no end in sight”, notes the Antigone association, which campaigns for the protection of prisoners’ rights, in its annual report on the seventeen centers in Italy where nearly 400 minors are imprisoned.

An unsuitable Italian penal code

Escape cannot be instrumentalized to denounce the problems of prison overcrowding or the lack of prison officers warns Antigone. “We must insist on an educational model that places the educational needs of minors at the center, this is the task of a society that calls itself adult”, underlined its president, Patrizio Gonnella, in a column published on December 27 in the daily Il Manifesto.

Through the discomfort of the fugitives of Beccaria, it is the question of the adequacy of criminal justice and the incarceration of minors that is raised. “A minor must be educated outside of prison. Respect for others cannot be learned by locking a teenager behind bars,” continues Patrizio Gonnella, who denounces an unsuitable Italian penal code, where the sentences for adults and minors are not sufficiently differentiated. “It has no
sense of locking up a young person in prison if, at the same time, they are not offered a life course after detention”,
explains for his part the prosecutor Cascone.

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After a spectacular escape, the structures of confinement of minors implicated in Italy