Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Italy Makes It Hard For Jailbirds to Stay in Jail

The Journal often has stories of this kind, part of its strength. This one is summed up by this line: In Italy, it sometimes seems that no bad deed goes unpardoned. Having run out of room in its jails, Italy released a third of its prisoners, leading to a crime wave. ... even traffic tickets can be appealed to the nation's highest court. Imagine appealing a parking ticket to the Supreme Court. Which explains that the statute of limitations on most felonies expires before a final verdict can be reached.

It gets better. The sorry state of Italy's prison infrastructure plays a role, too. Prosecutors have charged Salvatore Ferranti for being a henchman of one of Sicily's fiercest crime families. But last month he was released from the slammer and given house arrest. The reason: He was too fat. The prison system didn't have beds big enough to accommodate his 462-pound frame.
Salvatore Ferranti, whom prosecutors accuse
of being a member of a Mafia crime family
in Palermo, as he is released from jail because of his size.

This is a gem, perfectly put by a bureaucrat:
"The fact of the matter is that obesity is not compatible with prison," says Lino Buscemi, secretary of the Sicily region's Department of Prisoners' Rights in Palermo. Incompatible?

More than incompatible; the legal system is stacked. Get this one.

"Someone who commits bribery, insider trading, tax evasion, false bookkeeping, what have you, is pretty much guaranteed to go free," says Bruno Tinti, a prosecutor in Turin who wrote a book about Italy's justice system called "Toghe Rotte" or "Broken Robes." One chapter purports to outline a satirical step-by-step guide to killing your wife and mostly avoiding jail time.

Here's the logic: Once the deed is done, Mr. Tinti writes, immediately confess and provide the police with the weapon and the corpse. These steps mean that, under Italian law, there is no risk of flight or evidence-tampering, and therefore no need for pretrial custody. Murder can carry a sentence of more than 20 years, but requesting a speedy trial automatically cuts that by a third. Arguing that your dead wife was cheating can be good for another third off. Eventually, the sentence can be reduced to 10 years -- at which point only four years will actually need to be served. (Recall that most people sentenced to six years or less don't serve the time due to community-service and other provisions.)

"This is the proof that court sentences are fiction," says Mr. Tinti.

And Italy is one of the planet's largest economies; it is part of the Group of Eight: US, Canada, UK, France, Japan, Russia, Germany, and Italy.

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