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.



Early-Release of Some Inmates Could Cause Hardships For Others

prisonGreat! At long last, action is being taken, by the White House and the Department of Justice, to grant ‘early’ releases from prison to many non-violent inmates convicted under the onerous “drug laws” passed in the 1980’s.  Those laws insisted – meaning there was no judicial leeway or option – “many drug crimes that were common at the time to carry mandatory minimum sentences of 5 to 10 years in a federal prison.”

Between Friday, Oct. 30, and Monday, Nov. 2, in the neighborhood of 6,100 individuals convicted under those laws were released from prisons.

How far the government intends to extend this program is an open question at this point – not least because of a probably-overlooked ‘wrinkle’: In recent years, an increasing number of federal prisons – as well as state-, regional- and local-level jails – have fallen under the management of profit-oriented corporations. And profit they do, to the tune of some $3.3 billion per year. Part of the way they profit so handsomely is by contractually insisting that the institutions they oversee remain occupied at rates as high as 90-100%.

So, here’s the problem: While prisons in 17 states are occupied well beyond the capacities they were built for, populations in 33 other states’ prisons are, in a significant number of instances, at 99-100% of their intended capacity. In the latter sector, the just-under-capacity prisons, the departure of even a small number of early-release individuals could drop the population to below a contracted-for level, if the prison is one run privately, not by a government agency itself.

Theoretically, it would be possible to simply shift some inmates from over-populated prisons to ones with a few (or more) empty beds. But in practical terms, that ordinarily would work only where federal prisons are concerned, or where less-crowded facilities are within the same jurisdiction – say, a state – as an over-crowded one.

(There are a few exceptions, as when Pennsylvania contracted, a few years ago, to have several hundred of its state-level inmates housed in prisons in Virginia. That practice was fairly quickly halted and reversed, though, in part because housing prisoners many hundreds of miles from their families caused more problems than the practice solved: While prison over-crowding was eased in Pennsylvania, the ‘solution-caused’ situation, where families and inmates came to be unable to see each other, posed risks of long-term, during- and post-confinement issues. Pennsylvania was forced to ‘bite the financial bullet’ and bring its prisoners home – resulting, unfortunately, in prison-worker job losses in Virginia. This is, as we’re all increasingly aware, far from a perfect world: What’s good for one too often is far from good for someone else.)

At this writing (late on the afternoon of November 4), the Department of Justice hasn’t responded to our requests for information on how these contractual/occupancy level issues are to be dealt with. We, with you, await their explanation.

Please checkout Commotion In The Pews, an eclectic blog by a brilliant (ex-Naval Intelligence) guy with a fascinating range of interests and a hobby being Santa, wherever he’s invited, in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.

Some of what Joe Courtemanche writes about probably won’t excite you, but at the very least, you more than likely will be impressed by his common sense, and the way he tells his tales.

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Go Directly To Jail, DO Pay Out Two Hundred Dollars

for_pay_prisonsA vast majority of American citizens and American taxpayers never, fortunately, have any contact with either local, state or federal lockups – jails or prisons. Nevertheless, every taxpayer presently supports two types of lockups at each of those levels – the ones run in the traditional way, by the appropriate government authority, and, increasingly, the ones run, under contract with government agencies, by private, for-profit firms. The latter rip off their sponsors and the taxpayers who support them, to the tune of many millions of dollars annually. Worse, they royally rip off the prisoners they are paid to oversee and, directly or indirectly, those inmates’ families and friends.

What’s worse, at least two of those huge for-profit companies are using an uncontrolled amount of their enormous amount of profit to so strenuously lobby Congress that it has been impossible to advance legislation that would enable the public to learn something about how they do business, and profit, at our expense.

Repeated attempts to pass a Private Prison Information Act, which would require those for-profit prison operators to “comply with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), by making certain records available to the public,” can’t get enough support to pass because of private prison supporters’ lobbying efforts.

Astonishingly, those companies cannot be compelled under FOIA rules to release any information about how they do what they do, how they double- and triple-dip on both the public weal (trust) and, in several ways, its pocketbook.

Nearly as astonishing is the fact that a current Republican presidential candidate, the one whose name sounds like the creation of a video game developer, has received close to (or, by now, more than) $50,000 in contributions from one of the ‘big two’ for-profit prison operators – GEO. The other biggie is CCA, the Corrections Corporation of America.

Florida is one of several states – others being Tennessee and “border states with high populations on undocumented immigrants” – where politicians, particularly Republicans, have been among “the biggest beneficiaries of private prisons’ political donations,” The Washington Post reported earlier this year.

That Post article, under the headline ‘How for-profit prisons have become the biggest nobody lobby is talking about,’ noted that GEO, CCA “and their associates have funneled more than $10 million to candidates since 1989 and have spent nearly $25 million on lobbying efforts; Meanwhile, these private companies have seen their revenue and market share soar: They now rake in a combined total of $3.3 billion in annual revenue, and the private federal prison population more than doubled between 2000 and 2010, according to a report by the Justice Policy Institute.

That six-year-old report, nevertheless the most recent, comprehensive exploration of this issue, said that as of December 31, 2009, “approximately 129,000 people were held in privately-managed correctional facilities in the United States.” They represented, the report continued, “16.4 percent of federal and 6.8 percent of state [prison] populations.”

And there’s a reason why, “since 2000, private prisons have increased their share of the ‚market‛ substantially: the number of people held in private federal facilities increased approximately 120 percent, while the number held in private state facilities increased approximately 33 percent. During this same period, the total number of people in prison increased less than 16 percent. Meanwhile, spending on corrections has increased 72 percent since 1997, to $74 billion in 2007,” according to the same report.

The reason (not being reported from that report), is that one of the nastiest, costliest aspects of the deals jail and prison authorities – the ‘real’ ones, the ones theoretically under public control – make with the private prison operators requires occupancy rates of perhaps 90, even 100 percent!

But here’s the problem, in the face of close to 6,100 people having been released since last Friday (Oct. 30), according to NPR, because of a retroactive change in the way people convicted of drug-related crimes are sentenced: Those contractual obligations for prison occupancy quotas could simply result in more people – new prisoners – being incarcerated in accord with the provisions of those quota contracts.

How ‘locked up’ is that?

Meanwhile, the profits continue to roll in – with no oversight – to the private prison operators who charge inmates for everything from toilet paper (!) to toothpaste (!).

Sadly, those private prison operators have ‘partners in crime’, one of which will be looked at later this week. (It’s looking to parlay an already-enormously-profitable business into a whole new realm – one that, in both its simplicity and its gall, will make you gag!

And, hopefully, write your members of Congress. This unaccountable BS has to stop!


Please checkout Commotion In The Pews, an eclectic blog by a brilliant (ex-Naval Intelligence) guy with a fascinating range of interests and a hobby being Santa, wherever he’s invited, in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.

Some of what Joe Courtemanche writes about probably won’t excite you, but at the very least, you more than likely will be impressed by his common sense, and the way he tells his tales.