Interview. A new report from Antigone highlights the harms of the Caivano Decree. We spoke with juvenile crime expert Paolo Tartaglione to understand what the law does.

Most of the minors in Italian prisons are foreigners

Paolo Tartaglione, 49, is an educator and president of the Arimo cooperative, which deals with juvenile offenders in Lombardy. He advises the regional children’s ombudsman and is a resident expert for juvenile crime at the National Coordination of Shelter Communities (CNCA), which includes 240 organizations present in almost all of Italy.

We spoke with Mr. Tartaglione about the seventh report from Antigone, entitled Prospettive minori (Minor Perspectives).

Does it strike you that 57 percent of the minors detained in juvenile penal institutions are foreigners?

The figure has been increasing for a few years and is very high. Our juvenile criminal legislation treats crime as an extreme call for help. Juveniles who enter the criminal system, without exception, are in dramatic conditions, are struggling to grow up and they make people take notice of this issue by committing the crime. Foreign minors often find themselves in extreme conditions. If prevention and social interventions are insufficient, only extreme responses remain: psychiatric issues or crime.

In this context, the government has intervened on the issue of unaccompanied foreign minors by doubling the capacity of reception centers and allowing adult facilities to be used as well.

We are seeing very little foresight on the part of politics. I don’t know if it was there before, but it is certainly lacking now. Both the measures related to managing migration flows and the Caivano Decree are going to exacerbate the suffering of children, and this increases both crime and the need for psychiatric help. These are measures that satisfy voters’ gut impulses in the short term, but create disasters in the medium term. Anyone with a modicum of experience in the field knows this.

The Caivano Decree is at the heart of the report by Antigone, which writes that it “has destructive effects on the juvenile justice system.” What is happening?

We used to have an excellent juvenile crime law, from 1988, written with exceptional cultural awareness. It was depressing to see it swept away without political debate and through the confidence vote system, in an almost empty Chamber. With the conversion of the Caivano Decree into law, the use of incarceration for minors exploded. Bringing a juvenile behind bars is the best way to increase recidivism. The more we put kids in jail, the more crime we will have. But the most serious aspect is limiting the possibility of granting probation, the flagship of our juvenile justice system and something envied throughout the world. Before, it could be used for any offense, while today it can’t be. For example, it is ruled out in cases of aggravated robbery, which sounds terribly dangerous at first glance but which is very frequent in adolescents. An example: snatching a cell phone from a peer after threatening to slap him. All this while overcrowding has arrived to the juvenile penal institutions as well and there are no places. In order to execute pre-trial measures from Lombardy, the young are sent to Puglia or Sicily, losing the right to be close to their families.

The report states that “juvenile detention appears to be a phenomenon that has the South as its main protagonist.” What do you think as you look at the issue from Lombardy?

It does not seem to me that juvenile justice has been characterized by a particular difference in treatment between the North and South in recent years. Certainly, there is an eternal difference in resources. In the North there has been much more use of communities and less use of prisons because of economic issues, not cultural ones. Lombardy has placed more people in communities than three or four regions combined. In a situation where there are few resources, it is possible that there will be further deterioration in the South.

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