“Children should not stay in jail.” With this statement, it seems self-evident, the Undersecretary of the Italian Ministry of Justice, Federica Chiavaroli, concluded the work of the conference on “Minors in prison”, on Thursday 22 September in the Senate, in Rome, sponsored by Camere Giovanili Union, together with the association Soroptimist, in collaboration with the Human rights Commission of the Senate. Children should not stay in prison. Yet, it is not self-evident. Sometimes, they become the innocent victims of their parents’ sins, punished by a life inside detention facilities for crimes they have not committed. In short, they are innocent creatures sentenced to prison.
According to data presented by the President of the Human Rights Commission of the Senate, Luigi Manconi, there are 39 children under three years of age in Italian prisons at the moment. Moreover, there are over 70 thousand children in Italy who pay visits to their imprisoned parents in penitentiary facilities. In Europe, their number exceeds two million. Yet, the law n. 40/2001, the so-called Law Finocchiaro, explicitly declared that children’s health and the rights are incompatible with their permanence in prison. Thus, in cases when there is no danger for public safety, mothers with children under ten years of age should serve their sentence under house arrest.
The number of the “suffering minors” is restricted, but the problem is huge. To solve it, creating six “family homes”, it would be enough to invest one million and 150 thousand euros and some good will. Next spring, a pilot project should be finally realized in Rome, in an apartment seized a year ago, which had belonged to a ‘Ndrangheta boss. It was supposed to open in October last year, as announced by the Prefect, but the news had provoked a strong reaction in the population, which has exerted a strong pressure on the political directors. “The social grudge hinders ‘friendly Justice'”, says the sociologist Aldo Bonomi, founder of Aaser Consortium – Development agents for this area. In short, our society seems to be split in two, says the sociologist. On the one hand, there are those who work in the field of “care”, solidarity, and “mild law”, who believe in justice intended as “the thread to mend the social fabric”; on the other, we find the “resentful”, those wall off with judgment and criticism the space of their rights and freedoms, and close up behind these walls, excluding those “different from themselves”, the diverse, the weak, those who erred.
Our society experiences a serious contradiction, which has been stressed by the Union President Rooms Juvenile, Rita Perchiazzi. We have reached an evolved stage evolved of theoretical definition of the fundamental and inviolable human rights, but often they are still not protected in practice and there are “large and deep portions of our society where they are not applied at all.” For example, with regard to minors’ rights.
On September 6, 2016 was renewed the Memorandum of Understanding between the Ministry of Justice, the Authority Guarantor of Childhood and Adolescence, and the Association “Children Without Bars” concerning a Charter of children of imprisoned parents, reaffirming the best interests of the child and his “normal” life, in a healthy and free environment. The Constitutional Court Judgment no. 239/2014 reaffirmed the prevailing interests of the children as a right not to be “jailed” for crimes they have not committed, to grow in freedom, in a family with a healthy mental and physical development, without being discriminated against, and exercising their right to education.
The protection of minors with at least one parent in prison requires, first and foremost, an operation of support to parenting and parenting skills. Article. 27 of the Italian Constitution establishes that punishment should be aimed at rehabilitating and reintegrating those who were recognized guilty of an offense in the society. Punishment cannot clash with human dignity.
“Children are vulnerable. Precariousness of life and poverty entail severe effects such as cognitive deprivation and disturbed behaviors,” said Marilisa Martelli, President of Aismi (Italian Association for children’s and teenagers’ mental health). Children’s mental health, specialists say, requires seven basic conditions: a clear and strong sense of identity, give meaning and a direction to their existence, be independent and aware of their abilities, feel that they belong to a community, starting with the family, security, participation, the possibility to choose having clear rules. This is possible only in a “normal” family context.
The sociologist Bonomi, with regard to children who are innocent victims, recalled the humanitarian tragedy of unaccompanied minors. Hundreds of them have disappeared, thousands fell prey to organ traffickers also in Italy. This summer alone, have been arrested forty migrant traffickers. Every year, eight million children disappear worldwide, with an average of one every two minutes. Nonetheless, the resentment due to the unsolved problems of today’s humanity turns into indifference, terrible and violent indifference.
“This is a time of a sea change, a paradigm shift,” says Bonomi. “All our ethical and regulatory parameters have failed. There are no more points of reference”. We sail at sight, no ideals, no projects, no rules. Even human rights now belong to “the cyber dimension” of those who navigate at sight, adrift in the tides of our society, explains Paolo De Stefani, a scholar of the Interdepartmental Centre for Research and Services on the rights of individuals and peoples, from the University of Padua. To find a route, you must find the value and practice of “virtue,” put ethics, responsibility for the other, at the basis of our society and as a beacon for politics. And who can talk rightfully about virtue? Who, in their everyday life, works to effectively defend people’s rights? Who takes care of the weak and fragile, who is responsible for and cares about children and their health? Who works in organizations and institutions engaged in the defense of human rights?
Soroptimist has not merely promoted beautiful thoughts and words on the subject of minors in prison. On a local level, in several Italian cities, it has financed the construction of playgrounds and rooms suitable for imprisoned parents with minor children. In Caltanissetta, Vibo Valentia, Chieti, and Verbania, for example. This good practice is spreading also to many other Italian cities. Yet, it needs a cultural revolution, to heal resentment and open to love.