Italy’s Crime Problem

Today’s Wall Street Journal article Italy Makes It Hard For Jailbirds to Stay in Jail reports:

ROME — Less than two years ago, Italy’s prison system faced a crisis: Built to hold 43,000 inmates, it was straining to contain more than 60,000.

So the government crafted an emergency plan. It swung open the prison doors and let more than a third of the inmates go free.

Within months, bank robberies jumped by 20%. Kidnappings and fraud also rose, as did computer crime, arson and purse-snatchings. The prison population, however, fell so much that for awhile Italy had more prison guards than prisoners to guard.

Defendants have the right to two appeals, and even traffic tickets can be appealed to the nation’s highest court. Italy’s courts are so clogged that the statute of limitations on most felonies expires before a final verdict can be reached.

Claudio Urciuoli, a criminal defense lawyer in Rome, says he often reassures his clients: “Don’t worry, you’ll never go to prison.”

Italy’s 2006 prisoner pardon — which so far has allowed 27,000 inmates to go free — worked something like a discount coupon. It lopped three years off every prison sentence, except ones for terrorism, Mafia-related crimes and a few others. A previous law already allowed anyone serving less than three years to perform community service instead of going to jail. So now, just about anyone sentenced to six years in jail doesn’t have to serve a day.

I should contact NY Times’ Fox Butterfield with this–I’m sure he’d “report” that crime rose despite fewer people in prison! (from Taranto’s “Best of the Web”)

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