Italy first in the EU for prisoners over 65: the weight of the times of justice on increasingly overcrowded prisons

Italy first in the EU for prisoners over 65: the weight of the times of justice on increasingly overcrowded prisons


Italy has the oldest prisoners in the whole European Union. An average age of 42 years, the largest number of over-50s (15,255, 28% of the total in prison), and the highest share in absolute terms of over-65s behind bars (2,540, equal to 4.7% of the total ). Not only. The prison population does not decrease, it even grows by 0.3% between 2021 and 2022, and consequently the problems and criticalities of the country system do not disappear, starting with overcrowding. There are, on average, 107 people for available beds, highlights the 2022 annual report of the Council of Europe, which once again turns the spotlight on a phenomenon that is by no means new. Data in hand, the Italian one “is among the countries with the most serious overcrowding”.

After all, it could not be otherwise. One of the observations of the Strasbourg body for the promotion of democracy and rights, cannot help but recall how the Italian prison capacity is based on the provisions of a ministerial decree of 1975. A system that appears, if not obsolete, in any case to be reviewed.

However, an all-Italian specificity must be taken into account which explains the reason for certain numbers. One above all, that of the elderly. “In Italy, a significant proportion of prisoners aged 65 and over are former mafia bosses sentenced to life imprisonment,” notes the Council of Europe. With them, presumably, also affiliates, given that the bulk of the prison population is represented by convicted drug offenders (31.6%), a business in which organized crime has always been very active.

Added to this is another structural problem, that of the times of justice. Of the 54,372 inmates surveyed at the end of January 2022, it is estimated that 30% are not serving a definitive sentence and remain in cells awaiting third-degree judgement. This means that the stay in prisons is among the longest. On average, people stay there for 18 months before knowing whether they will be released from prison or extended by court decision.

There is therefore work to be done between the justice system and the prison system. Also because emptying prisons could also bring benefits in economic terms. In Italy, every single prisoner costs 152 euros per day. At the end of 2021, overcrowding in prisons cost Italy three billion euros.


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