Three bills have recently been deposited by a coalition of Italian NGOs working in drug policies, justice and human rights, to tackle prison overcrowding largely due to the overwhelming number of detainees charged with drug crimes. The bills will be discussed in the Parliament providing they can attract at least 50.000 signatures from Italian citizens.

On April 9th, the first national day of the campaign took place and signatures were collected before law courts in most Italian cities. It was quite successful, as about 10.000 signatures were collected in just one day, beyond expectation. Most of the signatories were young people, drawn by the web campaign through the dedicated site www.3leggi.it : many even travelled for miles to reach the points where they could sign the bills.

The second national day has been organized in May, in the university campuses. Signatures are also being collected in major drug policy events, such as the Million Marijuana March in Rome, and the Cannabis Pisa Festival.

Fifty thousand certified signatures are required for each  of the bills,  to be collected within six months, but the campaign promoters set 100.000 as a goal: not only to raise public awareness on the issues as far as possible, but also because of the deterring bureaucratic procedures, that might impede to have the required certification for all the collected signatures.

The promoters are also trying to involve VIP from culture, science and media worlds: Ascanio Celestini, prominent actor and writer, and Massimo Carlotto, well known crime books writer, have already joined the campaign.

The Drugs, Prisons and Human Rights campaign has been prompted by the crisis Italian prisons are facing: President Giorgio Napolitano has repeatedly complained that “the living conditions in Italian prisons violate the Italian Constitution”; and on January 8th Italy has been sentenced by the European Court for Human Rights for the “degrading and inhumane” conditions of prisoners .

Flaws are present in Italian legislation concerning human rights: the Italian Parliament has failed to introduce torture as a specific crime, despite the cases of people beaten by the police, while detained or during arrest: see the shocking cases of Stefano Cucchi, a drug user who died in 2008, after being arrested for drug dealing and severely beaten by prison guards; and Federico Aldrovandi, aged 18, who was knocked down and beaten to death by four policemen in 2005.

The three bills “by citizens’ initiative” aim at:

  1. reforming drug legislation by decriminalizing personal use of drugs completely, introducing lower penalties for minor drug crimes, distinguishing between different substances, promoting alternatives to incarceration for drug users
  2. introducing the crime of torture into the penal code
  3. improving prison conditions

This note has been written with the auspice of contradicting Tom Lehrer, the Harvard mathematician and popular folk singer of the US movements in the 1960s, who said: "We lose all the battles, but we have all the right songs".

Info about the campaign on www.3leggi.it and www.fuoriluogo.it

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