The Italian Almanac

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Pianosa prison

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One of Italy's most notorious former prison islands, best known as the site of the country's toughest maximum security prison, will likely once again play host to inmates. A plan to re-open the prison on the tiny remote island of Pianosa, off the coast of Tuscany, has been approved by administrators and will be discussed further at high level meetings.

Prison overcrowding has been an enormous social and political problem for the government. Just over a year ago, then-Justice Minister Paola Severino said that two of Italy's former prison islands, Asinara off Sardinia as well as Pianosa, could once again be home to maximum-security regimes for mafiosi. Severino, justice minister in the former government of Mario Monti, said at the time that the costs might be "high" but "if we were able to meet those costs, we might think of reopening them".

Some politicians welcomed Severino's idea at the time, but local officials, especially in Sardinia, were critical. It's likely that local residents, who had hoped to develop their island's tourist industry, also won't be enthusiastic. Pianosa, perched in the Tyrrhennian Sea halfway between Elba and Corsica, was preparing to develop a tourist industry after the penal facility was closed. Local officials had hoped to capitalize on the fact that paradoxically, Pianosa's top security facilities actually helped to saved its natural environment from developers.

Pianosa is part of an archipelago made up of Elba - the largest of the islands - Capraia, Giglio, Gorgona, Giannutri and Montecristo, setting of Alexandre Dumas's novel The Count of Monte Cristo.