Viva l'Italia

by Alessandra Flora

For the past six months Italian politicians and media have been rowing over the problem of overcrowded jails.
But no one is interested in prisoners’ life. If you commit a crime you have to pay for what you’ve done: everybody is equal before the law or, at least, he or she is supposed to be.
Yet what happens when you get back to normal life after having served a long sentence? Who will offer you a job if you don’t have a diploma?

I have visited several times Rebibbia Penitentiary in Rome, Italy. Maybe it is one of the best examples in Europe of what rehabilitation means.
The hardest thing in jail is to graduate. It depends only on your commitment but may appear something impossible. As a prisoner you can neither leave jail to attend courses outside nor use the online ones (Internet is completely forbidden). As a result, in most cases the prisoner gives up learning.

Rebibbia Penitentiary is launching a new learning project aimed to help undergraduate prisoners who want to apply for admission to University, to study law and graduate.
Due to the fact that inmates cannot go out, the project allows professors from University such as La Sapienza, lawyers and tutors to join them.

Giovanni Iacomini, 48 years old, has been served as law teacher in Rebibbia since 1997. He is now involved in this new project. In 2003 he founded a non-profit association “Freedom and knowledge”, aimed at organizing conferences and cultural events for the benefit of prisoners, in collaboration with universities and public institutions. In 2005 the President of the Republic awarded Mr Iacomini with a special prize.

Iacomini said: “Thanks to this project, seven prisoners have been admitted to university and soon will attend the courses. Rebibbia Penitentiary recently renovated the classroom provided with personal computers. Nevertheless, the best high-school students are also allowed to attend, even though they do not possess a secondary school degree”.

Indeed, miracles sometimes happen. The strange thing about it is that the Rebibbia University project does not receive public funds. Not an euro has been invested by the Government. Teachers and tutors involved work for free. The project was born spontaneously, thanks to the good will of a few volunteers, without any support whatsoever from the Ministry of Justice, overseeing prisons in Italy. Who cares about inmates?

Rebibbia is one of the biggest and best-known jails in Italy. Prisoners there are allowed to study, do (o play) sport, perform in theatre, work in social enterprises. In 2011 the Taviani brothers directed the movie “Cesare deve morire” (Ceasar must die) telling the story of a group of inmates performing Shakespeare “Julius Ceasar”. The movie was awarded at the Berlin Festival and is considered one of the most successful Italian movies.

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