All Judicial Psychiatric Hospitals (JPH) have closed down in Italy following years of debate on the appropriate assistance to mentally ill individuals who commit crimes.
Until Tuesday six JPHs still existed in Italy, home to about 700 patients. In 2012 a new law was adopted by parliament ruling that JPHs had to close down and inmates to be transferred to health-care structures.
Based on the new law, the execution of security measures falls onto the shoulders of mental health departments at the regional level.
"This day is a leap forward in the civil history of Italy," Health Undersecretary Vito De Filippo told Xinhua. "For centuries it had been known that offenders suffering from psychiatric diseases must not be put in jail, but they paradoxically ended to be interned in prison-like institutions for periods exceeding those of a verdict," he explained.
"Today it is finally clear that these people have to be put into the hands of structures with a medical nature," De Filippo stressed.
He told Xinhua that the Italian State has allocated a total of 173 million euros (over $185 million) to finance the closure of JPHs and the construction of new health-care structures and related social services and training activities at regional level.
Each of the 20 regions of Italy is set to be home of one or two new health structures. More than 10 regions are ready, while another six will open the new structures in the coming months, De Filippo noted.
In these structures, which will host a total of 500-600 patients while a group of not-socially-dangerous ones will be assisted through community services, particular emphasis will be put on the treatment and rehabilitation outside a prison-like environment, Patrizio Gonnella, President of Antigone, a non-governmental organization (NGO) dealing with human right protection in the penitentiary system, told Xinhua.
In fact, Gonnella pointed out, only 10-15 percent of Italian JPHs inmates have committed serious criminal offense against other people. The others are perpetrators of everyday crimes.
"Italy is the country of the Basaglia Law," he said referring to a wide reform of the psychiatric system in Italy promoted in 1978 by psychiatrist Franco Basaglia which led to closing down of all psychiatric hospitals and their gradual replacement with community-based services.
The Basaglia Law had worldwide impact as other countries took up the Italian model. "And after the end of the State psychiatric hospital system, now it is time to close down JPHs," Gonnella stressed.
"Indeed, a prison-like environment is the worst therapy that could be used to treat mentally ill individuals," a psychiatrist and Director of Castiglione delle Stiviere JPH in northern Italy, Andrea Pinotti, said.
Differently from the other JPHs, Castiglione delle Stiviere already was a health-care structure with "priority given not to social neutralization but to personalized rehabilitation," he explained to Xinhua.
"Many inmates of Italian JPHs have been detained for many years in such conditions that do not provide the minimal respect for personal dignity as there was no other suitable structure to welcome them," he went on saying.
Moving the inmates to new health-care structures will be not an easy process, Pinotti added, and needs collaboration between health institutions with the key goal to guarantee maximum security for society but also right to rehabilitation for mentally ill offenders.