Hope beyond bars

Publish date 18-01-2023

by Stefano Caredda

A way to break down barriers, an opportunity to demonstrate that it really is possible to go beyond the schemes, to improve people's lives and instill hope for the future. In recent weeks, just a few days before the changeover between the Draghi government and the Meloni government, an agreement between numerous realities, headed by the Ministry of Justice, established that people detained in ten provinces of the Abruzzo, Lazio, Molise regions , Marche and Umbria will have the opportunity to work on the construction sites of over 5,000 public reconstruction works and on those of 2,500 churches damaged by the 2016 earthquake that hit central Italy.

An agreement that aims to increase job opportunities, an indispensable tool for the full social reintegration of those who are serving a prison sentence in 35 institutions in central Italy. The number of prisoners involved will depend on the work program and on the building sites identified. The methods of job placement will be defined on the basis of the profiles of the individual prisoners and the needs of the companies. The Department of Penitentiary Administration will identify the suitable ones and encourage their placement in construction sites close to the detention facilities, in agreement with the supervisory judiciary. Among others, the Italian Episcopal Conference is also involved, which will promote the use of labor by prisoners deemed suitable among companies engaged in the reconstruction of religious buildings.

The agreement is the typical example of how a society can look at prison as a resource for the whole community, remembering that work is the main way to direct the time of detention towards the goal – defined in the Constitution – of re-education and social reintegration. After all, to quote the words of today's former Minister of Justice, Marta Cartabia: "Rebuilding buildings, to rebuild one's own lives and feel part of the community, has a very strong symbolic meaning".

«If – argued the president of the CEI, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi – we want prison to be not only punitive, but redemptive, we must stop thinking of it as an isolated, independent, marginalized reality. Giving prisoners the opportunity to work is a way to make them feel part of the community, to give them a perspective of the future and a valid alternative to not go back to crime once their sentence has been served. The fact that they are engaged in construction sites for public and religious reconstruction is then a sign of hope and an encouragement to build our tomorrow together".

The prison system in Italy has many, too many, obscure points. And it is not surprising that the recidivism rate, i.e. the percentage of those who, once their sentence has been served and released from prison, return to committed crimes, is very high (on average around 80%). But the numbers also demonstrate that the recidivism of those (still too few) prisoners who have had the opportunity to undergo professional training and to work is extraordinarily low. A win-win for them, a win-win for everyone.

Stefano Caredda
NP November 2022

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