Italians Get Serious About Keeping Released Convicts Free, and Employable



Italy, like the U.S. and other countries, struggles both with prison over-crowding and recidivism – the too-high percentage of released prisoners who reoffend and end up back inside. A few years ago, the Italian government, sometimes in partnership with private industries, began a program to offer training in trades work (painting, carpentry, etc.), and because it seems to be working, the program is being expanded, to more kinds of work, and to more prisons.

A ground-breaking addition to the was introduced late last year, when a full-scale, up-market restaurant opened in a prison just outside Milan. InGalera – the name is prison slang for “In Prison” – quickly caught the attention of the media and adventurous diners: The eatery is fully booked a month or more in advance, and the food critic of  Corriere della Sera, one of Italy’s most important newspapers, has urged her readers to “spread the word.”

Elvira Serra, who visited InGalera a few days after its ‘soft’ opening, praised the menu (which included, she noted, “chestnut pappardelle with venison ragout and currants, and guinea fowl stuffed with Belgian [endive] and hazelnuts”) and the wine list that, she said, “well-represents all [Italian] regions.” And the tag line of her column was, indeed, “Spread the word!”

The small prisoner staff – all carefully-chosen, as you’d imagine – is overseen by a professional maître d’, Massimo Sestito, who greets customers and handles all the cash, and, in the kitchen, by professional chef, Ivan Manzo. The latter recently told the New York Times that he is not concerned about working with men convicted of serious crimes, because, as he put it, “I’ve seen a lot of crazy people working in kitchens outside of here!”

Many of the visitors are naturally curious about the presence of a commercial restaurant inside a prison, a world that is alien to most people. But more and more, as word spreads, thanks in part to glowing reviews on TripAdvisor (InGalera has a four of a possible five stars there), they are drawn by the cuisine, which is presented as impressively, and professionally, as in the area’s finest restaurants.

Sadly, though, the men chosen to work in InGalera are due to remain in prison for considerable lengths of time, so it will be a while – several or more years – before they will be able to put their newly-learned skills to work in the civilian world.

Why is that so? Simply because those running the training program want a good return on their investment in these workers! Understandable, but sad, nonetheless.