NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 9, 2008

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.

This was a bad idea, says the Wall Street Journal:

  • Within months, bank robberies jumped by 20 percent.
  • 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.

In Italy, it sometimes seems that no bad deed goes unpardoned, says the Journal:

  • The nation's legal system has roots in the unforgiving codes of the Roman Empire, well known for crucifixions and feeding people to the lions.
  • But since then it has evolved to become infused with Roman Catholic notions of forgiveness, along with a healthy dose of bureaucracy.
  • The death penalty is considered abhorrent, and life sentences are rare.
  • Defendants have the right to two appeals, and even traffic tickets can be appealed to the nation's highest court.

The result: Italy's courts are so clogged that the statute of limitations on most felonies expires before a final verdict can be reached.

Source: Gabriel Kahn, "Italy Makes It Hard For Jailbirds to Stay in Jail," Wall Street Journal, April 8, 2008.

For text: 


Browse more articles on Government Issues