“There is no frigate like a book/ To take us lands away” Emily Dickinson wrote almost two centuries ago. A book, a white sheet of paper and a pen, the study of the humanities and of scientific disciplines, make us who we are. They make our mind grow, make us develop, allow us to be “free” even when life goes on in a few square meters, behind bars, with a few hours of yard time and community service. There, in the hell of the prison, where intimacy becomes thinner and existence becomes a daily struggle against anxiety and the risk of dying inside, of “becoming institutionalized” (as a magnificent Morgan Freeman defines getting used to the cell in Wings of freedom). “The degree of a country’s civilization can be measured by observing the condition of its prisons”, Voltaire’s overused statement which is very topical today.
The failure of the prison system, in fact, overrules the purpose of work reintegration and returns men and women who are alienated from reality, unable to find a job and, therefore, destined to end up in the clutches of crime. Besides, if a minor ends up behind bars, the state has to guarantee him schooling, especially when it comes to compulsory education. But way too often the mechanism clogs and as a result young prisoners do not finish their studies. According to the latest report “Kids Outside” by the “Antigone” association, which has cited the data of the Department of juvenile justice, in 2012 out of the 1066 students enrolled in the courses only 71 have achieved primary or lower secondary school diplomas, only 201 have obtained credits, and 88 admission. A slap in the face of the future of those young people, who are likely to pay forever for their own mistakes and for the Article 27 of the Constitution which recites: “Sentences must aim at the offender’s rehabilitation”. In the case of minors, this principle acquires an even more important value.
All this happens despite a growing supply. For the school year 2014/2015, in the reformatory were activated ten literacy courses and courses for linguistic and social integration, in which enrolled 84 minors, almost all of whom foreigners; in 11 institutes, on the other hand, 98 minors attended primary school. Thirteen structures have made available courses to take the lower secondary education diploma for 115 pupils. There are only seven courses, on the other hand, that allow to take the upper secondary school diploma, with a total number of 60 students. Activities take place almost all the time in morning, only in a few cases lessons are attended in the afternoon so as to allow everyone to work. Often lessons are organized in modules so as to allow attendance in cases when one serves a short time: the directors of the structures declare that it is difficult to activate courses given the uncertain time those young people spend there.
Teachers of literacy courses are often volunteers, whereas those who teach in primary and secondary schools come from schools and are teachers at the Permanent Territorial Centers or Provincial Centers for Adult Education. In some cases teachers belong to private schools. In the institutes in Catania and Torino, besides steady professors there also volunteer teachers or employees of local authorities who help young people to prepare for the exams. There are no enough assistant teachers, despite the remarkable number of young people with physical and psychic difficulties; also special programs for young people with behavioral difficulties are lacking. Equipment in the classrooms is rudimentary (maps, library). There are no laboratories for experimental work related to scientific education, although most of the institutes are equipped with computers. Teachers have not been trained specifically to educate in a special context such as a reformatory: their presence in prison depends on their position in the rankings of the Provincial Centers, on the selection made by the headteacher as well as on their own availability.
Despite some important achievements, the overall balance is still insufficient, also in the light of the number of prisoners. There are, in fact, 449 minor prisoners in 16 Italian penitentiaries, twenty times less than in 1940, when there were 8,521 of them and little more than a half with respect to 1975. A number that has stopped decreasing in the last 15 years, remaining fairly stable. Suffice it to say that in the first half of 2015, there had been 23 murders (committed and attempted), with which were charged minors who entered reformatories for minors: crimes committed mostly by Italians (16), all males; 7 foreigners, of whom two were females. Among the crimes there are also 89 cases of intentional injuries. Data concerning the entire year 2014 detect 58 minors charged with murder, 43 Italians, including a girl, and 15 foreigners. During the same year there were 151 injuries; 14 cases of sexual violence. There is a growing tendency in community care, which in 2015 has involved 55.8% of the Italians and 44.2% of the foreigners. Structures in which the social reintegration of people who have lost their freedom is assisted. One ray of sunshine on a horizon which is still too dark.