The Italian Almanac
A project to build floating penitentiaries as a means to ease Italy's chronic prison overcrowding was presented during meeting of the prison warden union Sidipe. The project from the Fincantieri shipbuilding group was commissioned by the justice ministry and was first presented to the government last May. Based on the project's initial draft, the floating prisons would essentially be large barges on which modular structures could be built to meet specific needs. They would not be seaworthy but be permanently docked in isolated port areas with power and other utilities land-linked.
At present the government is considering placing the barge-prisons in the ports of Genoa, Livorno, Civitavecchia, Naples, Gioia Tauro, Palermo, Bari and Ravenna. Fincantieri has proposed building totally new barges as opposed to refitting existing vessels as other countries have done. The model presented at the Sidipe conference has 320 cells for a total of 640 inmates. Each cell measures 14 square meters plus two for a lavatory. The entire barge is 126 meters long, 33 meters wide and 34.8 meters high.
Aside from the cells, the barge will have modules for mess halls, visiting rooms, offices, libraries, gyms and staff quarters. According to Fincantieri, one of the best advantages of the floating prisons is that they can be built in less than 24 months. Other advantages include the flexibility of the modular design, the fact that the barges can be towed to other locations, also in the event of a natural emergency, and can be used for other purposes other than prisons. The estimated cost of a typical floating prison is in the neighborhood of 90 million euros.
Prison overcrowding has become a critical problem in Italy's prisons where the population of inmates is at a post-war high of over 65,000 inmates in a system designed to accomodate 43,0000. It is also believed to be in part responsible for last year's record number of prison suicides, 72 compared to a previous record of 69 set in 2001. There have already been another 12 suicides this year.
Aside from the floating prisons, the government plans to deal with the situation by having 48 new cell blocks added to existing penitentiaries, renovating two prisons and building 24 new county jails by 2012 to create room for 17,891 inmates.