The 41-bis Prison Regime: The Active Case of Alfredo Cospito
We, Crisis Mirror, as a political activist group, would like to shed some light on the case of Alfredo Cospito, an Italian anarchist who is imprisoned under the 41-bis, a dehumanizing and harsh prison regime, designed/intended for imprisoned leaders of criminal organizations and terrorist groups to prevent them from having contacts with the world beyond the prison walls. Nevertheless, it has started to be implemented for political activists, anarchists and in general for people that, through their political identity and their activist or militant actions, are considered to pose a threat to modern capitalist society and are therefore nominated as “enemies of the system”.
On the 20th of October 2022, the anarchist Alfredo Cospito, during a trial at the Sassari Probation Court, made an attempt to read an articulate statement in which he announced that he had started a hunger strike against the 41-bis prison regime to which he is subjected to, and against the life sentence without parole. This is a battle that Alfredo does not intend to stop, until his vindication or his own death. The anarchist, who has been under the 41-bis since last May the 5th, following a decree signed by the Justice Minister Marta Cartabia, is now being detained in the Bancali prison in Sardinia.
In 2012, Cospito shot Roberto Adinolfi in the leg, the chief administrator of Ansaldo Nucleare, an Italian nuclear energy company. Cospito declared in court that he shot Adinolfi to protest against the development of nuclear energy in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. A previous attack was subsequently linked to Cospito: the 2006 detonation of explosives outside a police academy in Fossano, a town in Piedmont, in Northern Italy. No one was injured in that late-night explosion.
Authorities accused him of acting as a leader of a militant anarchist group with links outside Italy known as the Informal Anarchist Federation-International Revolutionary Front. This collective of “insurrectionary anarchists” was viewed as a growing threat in a 2014 report from the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, of the American military academy.
By branding him as a leader of the anarchist movement, Italian authorities ordered Cospito into total isolation, cutting off his contact with the outside world. He joined Italy’s mafia bosses in the most secluded corner of the country’s prison system.
Cospito initially was sentenced to 20 years in prison for detonating explosives at the police academy. But after his case reached Italy’s highest court, the Italian Court of Cassation, it was reclassified in July 2021 as a “massacre against the security of the state,” a crime that carries a life sentence.
“In other words, the most serious crime in our judicial order,” Albertini (lawyer) said.
Alfredo has been for many years contributing to the international anarchist debate with articles, editorial projects and proposals. For this reason, he has been censored several times and banned from communicating with the outside world, being condemned for the publication of the revolutionary anarchist paper ‘’KNO3“, and the latest edition of ‘’Anarchist Black Cross“, and he is currently under investigation for the publication of the anarchist newspaper “Vetriolo”.
The story of Alfredo Cospito is entangled with an increasingly dark repressive climate in the country, one that has serious repressive corresponding depictions in the whole globe. Outside the anarchist movement, we are also witnessing an increase of oppressive repression against workers, students, and social movements. Let’s cite the most striking case: this past summer the prosecutor’s office in Piacenza opened an investigation against trade unionists accusing them of “extortion” because they were demanding, through a “radical” struggle (pickets and roadblocks), salary increases from their bosses.
CM is examining Cospito’s case independently of either sharing common political beliefs with the detainee or trying to adopt or justify his actions and doings that sentenced him to prison in the first place.
It is worth noting that the states in Europe and elsewhere have shown a systematic tendency of imposing such harsh repressive measures to individuals that are considered dangerous to the establishment and the elites, even though there is little or no evidence of being dangerous to the rest of the society. At the same time the same states usually fall short when they need to condemn antisocial radicals such as those of the right wing which they tend to embrace or at the very best ignore.
Below we are going to present, in full, specific details about the establishment of the 41-bis, as well as similar cases of sentences in which this regime was applied.
Article 41-bis of Law No 354 of 26th July 1975, also known as the ‘’Carcere duro’’ (hard prison regime) was introduced to the Italian penitentiary system as an emergency measure during the so called ‘’Years of Lead’’ (“Anni di piombo”, a period going from the 60s to the early 80s characterized by violent social and political unrest) by the Ministries of Justice and Interior (Ordinamento Penitenziario, Legge 26 luglio 1975, N. 354. “Norme sull’ordinamento penitenziario e sull’esecuzione delle misure privative e limitative della Libertà”). It was meant to be applied in emergency situations, including the cases of unrest and revolts within penitentiary institutions.
At the end of the 20th century, Mafia’s operations and subsequent conflicts between different Mafia families scaled up. In 1986, a criminal trial took place in Palermo known as the “Maxi Trial” that lasted until 1992 and defined Cosa Nostra as a unique and hierarchical criminal organization (Bjarnadottir, K.S. 2013 ‘’La mafia siciliana, Cosa Nostra. Uno studio sulle origini, L’Attualità’’). Immediate reactions of Cosa Nostra, including a series of open attacks towards state figures, led to the killings of judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino (two judges who were well-known for their anti-Mafia endeavors), during the so-called ‘’Second Mafia War’’. The great consequence of this trial was the introduction of the 41-bis article in the Italian penal system (41-bis was amended by decree Law No 306 of 8th June 1992 and converted to Law No 356 of 7th August 1992), which constituted one of the initiatives of the Scotti-Martelli axis. Claudio Martelli and Vincenzo Scotti, respectively the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Interior at that time, associated the 41-bis with the anti-mafia law. Besides its aim related to anti-mafia action, the Ministry of Justice was allowed to impose the strict prison regime of the 41-bis on certain categories of prisoners whose crimes were threatening public security. Thus, the application of the 41-bis was since established under a rule that is political in nature, once the Minister of Justice, i.e., the political body of executive power, was made responsible for the implementation of this restrictive regime instead of the judicial body.
Article 41-bis was initially applied in the context of the ‘’Mafia emergency’’ to prisoners of mafia offences in ‘92. However, the ‘’emergency’’ has always been an ideological cover that has allowed the justification of the derogation of fundamental legal principles, promoting a state of exception. And the states of emergency, once introduced, they become permanent states of exception. The 41-bis prison regime was repeatedly extended since then, first until December 1999, then until December 2000, and then until December 2002. In 2002, 41-bis became a permanent fixture of the Italian penal code and a stable institution of the Italian prison system, by Law No 279 of 2002. Its application was extended to terrorism and subversive offences unrelated to Mafia-associated crimes. By the same year, an additional series of repressive measures were introduced including the lengthening of the minimum duration of the 41-bis regime, a reduction in visits and ‘’airtime’’, and an increase in solitary confinement. Furthermore, the Ministry of Interior, which is the political authority responsible for the management of internal affairs and for controlling the state police, was allowed to request the Ministry of Justice to apply this restrictive regime to detainees, a measure established since 2009. Also, Ministerial circular 3619/6069 of 21st April 2009 introduced the establishment of High Security Sections within the penitentiary facilities in which the 41-bis regime is applied, with even harsher conditions for the convicts. Today, the 41-bis constitutes one of the harshest prison regimes in Europe.
Measures of the 41-bis prison regime
The 41-bis prison regime is characterized by a series of violations to the rights of the detainees, imposing the sacrifice of the rights of the individual for the protection and recognition of the collective rights. The conditions of the 41-bis last for 4 years and, after this time, it is reevaluated every year. It is only suspended when detainees refrain from their ‘’illegal’’ activities and cooperate with the authorities. However, as the criminologist Della Bella points out, there have been prisoners spending 15-20 years in isolation under this regime.
Detainees subjected to this form of inhuman punishment experience a series of restrictions in their everyday life:
• They are excluded from every ‘’reward benefit’’ provided by the Law No 354, of 26th July 1975 (internal/external work, reward licenses, etc.).
• The detainees who are under the 41-bis are isolated in specific sections within penitentiary institutions or in separate institutions preferably located in island areas.
• Detainees spend 2 hours of ‘’airtime’’ per day in groups of 4 inmates with an absolute ban on speaking to any other person. Every movement of the offender is being surveilled.
• Prisoners have limited access to the prison library. They can have only 4 books per month that come only from this library.
• There is an increased limitation on the objects that the prisoners can receive from the outside.
• Any personal item is forbidden from the cells with the exception of a single television (state property).
• Family visits are only allowed once per month and no physical contact is involved (protective glass is separating the two individuals). Their duration is short, and the visit is audio and video taped. In case of no physical meetings, only a 10-minutes call under surveillance is allowed per month.
• Limitations are prescribed even in the communication between detainees and their legal advisors.
• Censorship of correspondence is also applied on the detainees that are under the 41-bis.
• The prisoners participate in trials only by videoconference.
The initial aim of the 41-bis hard prison regime was to prevent further illegal activities of the detainees with the free world by avoiding any contacts of the imprisoned people/incarcerated bosses with their mafia soldiers outside. Such a preventive aim is also applied in terms of their contact with other prisoners of the penal institution resulting in a highly restrictive isolation. These inhuman measures are still applied to specific detainees, thereby violating their human rights.
Violation of the rights of the prisoners subjected to 41-bis
Up until today, article 41-bis constitutes one of the harshest prison regimes in Europe, being a form of inhuman punishment for detainees that are convicted for mafia-type crimes, including membership and active role in mafia-associated organizations, drug trafficking, homicide, aggravated robbery, kidnapping, terrorism and attempting to subvert the Italian constitutional system. The inhuman conditions applied by this regime have been criticized by several criminologists, Amnesty International (“Italy: An increase in alleged ill-treatment by prison guards”, April 1993’’), the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) and the Council of Europe’s committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) (‘’L’affaire Provenzano c/ Italie ou la délicate décision de la Cour Européenne sur les droits d’un homme parmi les plus dangereux de la Mafia’’, Teresa Travaglia Cicirello).
Criminologist Della Bella argues that the application of such a regime reduces the rights of the detainees and neglects the rehabilitation purpose of the imprisonment. The Italian constitution defines a set of rights that cannot be violated within the penal institution (Constitution of the Italian Republic). However, among these, the right to maintain relations with the family as well as the prisoner’s right to education rights are constantly violated by the 41-bis. In fact, the detainees have limited access to the library and to re-education projects. In addition to this, the right of the detainees to silence, their rights to vote, to health and to profess their own religion are reduced. The decreased socialization and the inadequate space in the cell constitute an additional violation of the prisoners’ human rights. Consequently, detainees are facing the challenges of physical and psychological withdrawal.
Several reports of torture and ill-treatment of people imprisoned in high security penitentiary institutions including those of Asinara (island prison), Pianosa, Poggioreale and Secondigliano under the 41-bis were submitted in 1991/1992, which raised Amnesty International’s concern (“Italy: An increase in alleged ill-treatment by prison guards”, April 1993). Amnesty International stated that the 41-bis ‘’can sometimes amount to torture’’. Furthermore, ECHR has scrutinized the regime on suspicion of breaching fundamental human rights. One of the main cases reported to ECHR was that of Bernardo Provenzano, a boss of the Cosa Nostra mafia organization who eventually died in prison. In particular, the court decided that the detainee had been subjected to inhumane treatment (inadequate medical care) that resulted in his death (case of Provenzano v. Italy, application no. 55080/13). Moreover, the Italian Ministry of Justice commissioned a report in 2019 concluding that the strict 41-bis regime conflicts the prisoners’ rights and hinder their rehabilitation. It is noteworthy that an American judge refused to extradite a mafia gangster to Italy ruling that the 41-bis ‘’is not related to any lawfully imposed sanction or punishment, and thus constitutes torture’’ as has been published to The Independent online newspaper in the United Kingdom (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/fears-of-torture-for-italian-gangster-397064.html). Criminologist Della Bella mentions that the fact that an instrument is useful does not automatically make it legitimate. There are human rights and principles that are beyond dispute.
SUPPORT FOR ALFREDO COSPITO – ABOLISH ALL PRISONS – BURN ALL CELLS.