ROME (Reuters) -The tough Italian prison regime for mobsters who refuse to turn state’s evidence breaches the constitution, the country’s top court ruled on Tuesday, urging parliament to amend the law within a year.
People given life sentences for mafia-related crimes in Italy are not eligible for parole or other concessions for good behaviour, unless they offer information that might help the authorities with their investigations.
Magistrates say the rule is crucial to persuade mafiosi to become informants, but the ruling by the Constitutional Court said it risked placing convicts in an unacceptable dilemma which put their families in danger.
The families of mafiosi who turn state’s evidence are often targeted by the organised crime gangs they betray.
The court said in a statement the criminals could face a “tragic choice” between collaborating to secure their freedom, which could endanger their loved ones, or giving up the chance of freedom in order to protect them.
“Collaboration is not necessarily a sign of credible repentance…It may well be the result of mere utilitarian considerations in view of the advantages connected with it,” the Court added.
In a similar ruling in 2019, the European Court of Human Rights criticised Italy’s jail regime, saying a refusal to cooperate was not always the result of free choice because prisoners might fear retaliation against their families.
The Constitutional Court judges asked parliament to change the law by May 2022. If it fails to do so the court could use its extensive powers to directly impose the necessary legislative changes.
The Court said its ruling did not apply to the most dangerous mafia criminals to whom a special regime of isolation applies.
Italy toughened jail conditions for convicted mobsters and militants after a spate of mafia killings in the 1980s and early ’90s that culminated in the 1992 murder of two top Sicilian anti-mafia magistrates, Paolo Borsellino and Giovanni Falcone.
Other long-term inmates sentenced to life in prison in Italy are eligible for parole after serving 26 years in jail.
“Citizens’ rights are at stake, and the court is right to set a time limit. It is now up to parliament to act accordingly,” said Stefano Ceccanti, a lower house lawmaker with the co-ruling Democratic Party.
(Editing by Gavin Jones and Mark Heinrich)