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March 12, 2024
Social Justice

The CPRs are inhumane prisons that must be closed

Insight by Adil Mauro

In Italy people continue to die of administrative detention in CPRs, real concentration camps for non-EU citizens without a regular residence document or recipients of an expulsion order. These are places defined in 2019 by the then Prisoners' Guarantor Mauro Palma as "worse than prison" which the current executive would like to strengthen and expand

In the Ponte Galeria facility, located on the outskirts of Rome, Ousmane Sylla, a 21-year-old originally from Guinea, took his life on February 4th. "Please take my body back to Africa, I miss my country so much, I miss my mother so much. The police don't understand anything, not even my language. I can't take it anymore, I just want my soul to rest in peace". This is the message that Sylla left on the wall of his cell before hanging himself with a sheet from a grate. According to the “Mai più lager – No ai Cpr” network, approximately forty people have died in these centers since they were established in 1998.

For years, organizations such as the Italian Coalition for Civil Liberties and Rights (CILD) have been denouncing the double paradox linked to detention without crime in the CPR: "one can be deprived, even for months, of one's freedom despite not having committed any crime and, at the same time, not even being granted those guarantees (habeas corpus; fair trial) and those principles (exclusiveness, reasonableness, proportionality) typical of criminal matters".

The death of Ousmane Sylla "derives from the inhuman conditions within the CPR, but in particular from the extension of the detention times that were approved by the Meloni Government", explains to Voice Over Foundation Federica Borlizzi, lawyer and collaborator in the legal area of the CILD. “With the old legislation Sylla would have been freed in December, given that among other things Italy has no agreements with Guinea. The new legislation has extended the term to 18 months, returning to 2011 levels with respect to the maximum detention terms", recalls Borlizzi.

Following Ousmane's death, protests took place within the Ponte Galeria CPR. “Fourteen people risk up to six years in prison”, says Borlizzi. “We are talking about sentences that risk being very serious for having rebelled against inhuman conditions and after having seen one of their companions die”.

A real risk given that the climate, even in the courtrooms, is very different compared to some times ago. Today, in fact, it would be almost impossible to read a sentence like that of the Court of Crotone which, in 2012, recognized the legitimate defense of some foreigners held in the former CIE (Identification and Expulsion Centre) of Isola Capo Rizzuto. The defendants demanded freedom by staging a protest and throwing stones and rubble at the Centre's security staff. In the sentence, the living conditions in the Calabrian structure were defined as "prejudicial to human dignity", configuring a violation of the art. 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (“No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”).

Another controversial aspect is the growing privatization in the management of these detention centers. The entry of private entities interested above all in profit maximization "has inevitably led to a deterioration of the conditions - already precarious - of the detained people", as the CILD always points out in a report published last summer: "The CPR affair. Profit at the expense of migrant people".

The business continues even when the "guests" - as the detained people are called - leave these centres. “We followed kids who found themselves on the streets overnight”, recalls Borlizzi. “Imagine what it means to find yourself on the street, in Palazzo San Gervasio, a small village of 5000 inhabitants lost in the countryside of the province of Potenza. We are talking about people who find themselves without economic resources because they have nothing and who in fact end up becoming homeless and using cheap labor in the fields. The entire system of irregularities is functional to labor exploitation which is not sufficiently investigated".

At the beginning of this year, the CPR of Palazzo San Gervasio ended up at the center of an investigation by the Potenza prosecutor's office. The investigations into the management of the facility between 2018 and 2022 involve around thirty people (including police officers and healthcare workers) and concern various types of crimes: mistreatment, multi-aggravated private violence and false ideology. During a press conference, Potenza prosecutor Francesco Curcio spoke of at least 35 cases of mistreatment in the center of Palazzo San Gervasio.

Last year the Canale 5 program Striscia la Notizia showed a video in which a police officer was seen forcing a migrant to take a drug. But that of Palazzo San Gervasio is not an isolated case.

The daily administration of large quantities of psychotropic drugs to "keep migrants detained in CPRs quiet" was documented last April by an investigation by Altreconomia. Among the testimonies collected, that of Nicola Cocco, doctor and expert in administrative detention, summarizes the issue well. “Unlike the prison situation, in the CPR health care is not entrusted to doctors and specialists who work for the national health system, but rather to staff hired by the managing bodies whose monitoring role has proven lacking, if not absent”.

Despite the obvious critical issues of these places, we find ourselves in a phase of expansion of administrative detention. Article 10 of the Piantedosi decree 20/2023 allowed the derogation from the Procurement Code, providing for the possibility of resorting to the negotiated procedure for the procurement of centers without prior publication of a tender notice, subject to compliance with certain rules, such as the anti-mafia laws. Exceptions that fall within the powers of the extraordinary commissioner Valerio Valenti appointed for the state of emergency on immigration, introduced last April and extended until April 2024.

“The construction of the new CPRs was entrusted to the military engineers”, says Borlizzi. “The military code has been modified by adding these centers to the strategic infrastructures for national security. Faced with such a violent tightening of regulations, there must be a strong response from civil society. At the Roman level, an attempt is being made to set up a network made up of various associations that involves the same racialized communities and is able to counteract the presence of a CPR that has existed in our territory for 26 years, that is, since administrative detention has been in force. The Ponte Galeria center is the only CPR that has a women's section where women who have survived trafficking and violence are very often detained".

The Roman network is taking its first steps, soliciting those institutions that must speak up, such as the Campidoglio and the Municipality of Rome. But we are also trying to ask for something more, as Borlizzi underlines. “We ask for the establishment of a commission of inquiry for the closure of the CPR which can hold the prefecture and managing body to account for what happens in that place where we as civil society, but also you as journalists, are unable to enter. The ambition is to connect with all the different realities spread across the national territory engaged in the same battle".

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