The Constitutional Court has given parliament another six months to change the law on life imprisonment

On Tuesday 10 May the Constitutional Court decided to give the Italian parliament another six months to approve a law that changes the prison system regarding life imprisonment, a penalty which the Court had established unconstitutionality a year ago. An impedimental life sentence is a never-ending penalty that “prevents” any modification of it and that cannot be shortened or converted into alternative penalties, unless the detained person decides to collaborate with the justice system.

The Court had given parliament a year to approve a new law: if no law had been approved at its expiration, on 11 May, the rule that provides for life imprisonment would have been abolished because “contrary to the articles 3 and 27 of the Constitution “. On May 10, however, the Court decided to grant an extension to parliament, considering that in the meantime a bill to modify the life sentence has been approved by the House (still to be discussed by the Senate). Now the deadline for approving the law has been set for 8 November.

The life imprisonment – introduced in the Italian penitentiary system in the early 1990s, after the massacres in which judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino were killed – is regulated by article 4 bis of the penitentiary system and establishes that convicted persons for some particularly serious crimes, such as the mafia or terrorism, they cannot be admitted to the so-called “penitentiary benefits” or to alternative measures to detention. For these people, access to conditional release, to external work, to premium permits and to semi-liberty is excluded.

The penalty of life imprisonment therefore coincides, for its duration, with the entire life of the convict: it is the one for which the expression “never end of sentence” is often used.

The bill approved at the end of March by the House provides that forms of penitentiary “benefits” can be granted to all those inmates who, even without having collaborated with the law, demonstrate that they have maintained correct prison conduct and participated in a rehabilitation process. Inmates under the 41-bis regime, or the “hard prison” for the most serious crimes such as the mafia and terrorism, will continue to be excluded.