(AP) — Tensions in Italy’s overcrowded prisons erupted Monday over new coronavirus containment measures, with riots in at least two dozen lock-ups and the deaths of six inmates who broke into an infirmary and overdosed on methadone.
Italy’s national prisoner rights advocate urged wardens to take immediate measures to calm the situation and mitigate the new regulations, which include a suspension of family visits as a way to prevent transmission of the virus.
“The difficulty of accepting extreme measures is accentuated in places where people don’t have any freedom,” the advocate said in a statement, urging wardens to provide inmates with greater access to information and phone calls to family members.
The Italian government has issued sweeping measures to try to contain the virus, limiting travel into and out of Lombardy and parts of Veneto, cancelling schools nationwide, barring gatherings of people and urging Italians to keep a meter or about three feet apart.
With more than 7,300 infected, Italy has more virus cases than any country outside Asia.
Human rights advocates have warned that fears of the virus were hitting inmates particularly hard, given their awareness that the overcrowded conditions made them vulnerable, said Alessio Scandurra, coordinator of adult detention advocacy at the Antigone Association, which lobbies for prisoner rights.
“In prisons in general, there’s a lot of anxiety,” he said in a telephone interview. “You can’t leave, and you’re in a place where infectious diseases can spread critically. Obviously inmates know this very well.”
When prison administrators suspended family visits, the tensions exploded probably as a panic reaction to limited accurate information about the measures and the virus’ spread, he said.