Children inside – Magazine –

“No more children in prison. Even a single child forced to live confined is too much.” In front of Parliament, on 17 February last year, Justice Minister Marta Cartabia reiterated what the government’s first goal is. But as they 21, who still lives behind bars, shows it is a much harder task to achieve.

In fact, they are the 6 of the 21 children who are currently in a real jail and they are all in the women’s ward of Rebibbia along with 4 mothers, two of whom have final sentences. In January there was no one, and at the end of February there was only one child: These numbers change every month, and in any case we try to reduce the number of children in prisons as much as possible. For all the others, on the other hand, their home is called the institute with weakened custody of imprisoned mothers, Icam. Introduced by Act 62 of 2011, the structures are dedicated exclusively to women with children up to 6 years of age, an age that rises to 10 if the sentence is final. The law 11 years ago also provided for protected family homes, without, however, stating any burden on the state. The result is that there are only two family homes in all of Italy, Leda’s house in Rome and the association Ciao in Milan.

However, the way to change the situation is open. Since 2019, a bill by Democratic Party deputy Paolo Siani has been kept in the Justice Committee, which identifies the only place in sheltered family homes where children of convicted mothers can live and which gives the state an obligation to fund them. , and introduces some amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure, which aim to make it possible to detain in ICAMs only when there is a “need for precaution of exceptional importance”. With the Budget Act 2020, the government has also allocated 4.5 million for the three-year period 2021-2023 with the aim of strengthening family housing. “With this financial availability – said the Minister of the Childhood Commission – a further possibility opens up: it is now up to the regions and local authorities to take concrete initiatives in the sector to welcome inmates’ mothers”.

The next few months will show if it will finally be possible to bring that number to zero. Meanwhile, the children continue to live in prisons and ICAMs. Of the latter, there are five in Italy, but one, in Cagliari, is empty. In Venice there is only one child, nine little ones live instead in Icam di Lauro, in the province of Avellino: the oldest is nine years old, the youngest almost 2; three other children are in the ICAM in Turin, attached to the Le Vallette prison and two others in the one in Milan, which is dependent on the San Vittore prison but is external to the prison structure. What is the fundamental difference with a prison, explains the director of ICAM in Avellino Paolo Pastena. These are structures ”conceived from the beginning with certain principles that meet a basic need, namely not to make the minor’s impact noticeable or at least mitigate to the maximum with a penitentiary-like structure. The staff performs service in ordinary clothes, there is extensive use of video surveillance, we try to keep the rooms as open as possible ”.

Three years ago, in 2019, there were many more children in prison: 48, more than double today. And they had risen to 59 by early 2020. But then came Covid. And it is sad to see that the virus has succeeded where rules and societies have so far failed. But that is only the first paradox in this story, where reality is much more complex than it seems. Where the will must relate to prejudice. It is the responsibility of the supervisory judges, who have a wide discretion with regard to the allocation of alternative measures. There are the objective conditions for these mothers: the lack, for many, of a real home and family ties of absolute poverty that would make the alternative house arrest worse than imprisonment. And there is a general rejection of society to ‘protect’ these women and therefore reintegrate them into an appropriate social and work context when the prison path is over.

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