Jail is not the answer (by Carmelo Musumeci)

Letter sent to the newspaper Liberazione by prisoner Carmelo Musumeci on 5th November 2010. Carmelo Musumeci is a 54-year old life sentencer originally imprisoned for Mafia crimes. He is a prolific writer and tireless anti-prison campaigner and activist. He’s currently imprisoned in Spoleto’s jail. You can read more about one of the campaigns he’s involved with here.

Dear Liberazione,

the European Court of Human Rights has recently condemned Italy for the inhumane and degrading treatment it reserves to its prison inmates. All those people who think jail is a necessary evil (especially the kind of jail we have in Italy) are like those who thought the sun turned around the earth.

Jail doesn’t give answers, anywhere in the world. Jail is not an answer. People shouldn’t go to jail, but if they do they shouldn’t end up in some Western-like and inhumane place like Italian prisons are: places where people are locked up like in a doghouse and often abandoned to themselves. Sentences, anywhere in the world, shouldn’t aim at vengeance but at reparation and reconciliation. Only a jail open to and respectful of legality could return better citizens to society.

On the contrary, prisons in Italy (the 7th most industrialised and advanced country in the world) produce but sufference, injustice and new inmates. Italian prisons are for the poor, drug addicts, migrants and people at the margins of society. For those detainees subjected to the torture regime of the 41-bis article* prison is the place where one spends years after years without living. Prisoners subjected to this regime stay locked up all day in idleness and boredom, without any contact with the world outside. Prisoners subjected to “hard imprisonment” cannot hug or touch their loved ones; some haven’t done it in 18 years. These prisoners live in substantial isolation, with a plastic barrier on their windows to prevent them from seeing the sky, the stars and the moon. Prison in our contry produces death. The number of inmates who take their own life to stop suffering or because they love life too much, is very high: more than 50 only from the beginning of this year.

Only in Italy – nowhere in the rest of Europe or the world – we have a sentence that never ends: the “Living Death Sentence”, the “ergastolo ostativo” (life sentence without parole)**. This sentence never ends, unless you put someone else in your place. Nothing is more cruel than an everlasting sentence, because it kills a person inhumanely. The inmate who has received this sentence has no other possibility but suffering, growing old and dying. Not to have a future is worse than not having a life, because nobody can live without hope of freedom. One cannot be guilty forever. It’s inhumane to keep punishing a person even 20 or 30 years after they committed a crime. Dreams die in jail. And often, the prisoners who can still dream die before the others, because death is the only way to make their dreams come true.

* The article 41-bis is currently used against people imprisoned for particular crimes: Mafia involvement; drug- trafficking; homicide; aggravated robbery and extortion; kidnapping; importation, buying, possession or cession of huge amounts of drugs; and crimes committed for terrorism or for subversion of the constitutional system. It is suspended only when a prisoner co-operates with the authorities, when a court annuls it, or when a prisoner dies.
** This sentence is specifically for prisoners sentenced for associations with Mafia activities and/or terrorism. Unless they co-operate with the authorities, they are ineligible for parole, and will spend the rest of their life in prison.


Translated by Italy Calling.

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