Italy’s rehabilitation method: public interaction

By Wayne Boatwright

Italian-style rehabilitation includes public interaction with prisoners to change attitudes about the incarcerated.  And that’s served up with risotto and amuse-bouche dishes of cheese mousse with mustard, curry and dill, according to a March 2016 article in The New York Times.

Italy is facing the same challenges as California with prison over-crowding. Italy repealed its harsh drug laws, which were similar to the “three strikes law” of California. That was in response to a January 2013 European Court of Human Rights order to fix its criminal justice system.

In an experiment to rehabilitate offenders and lower the recidivism rate, one prison has opened a restaurant on prison grounds. It is named “inGalera,” Italian slang for “In Prison.”

The Bollate penitentiary with 1,100 medium-security inmates is the vanguard of rehabilitation experimentation in the Italian prison system and has volunteers that offer an array of programs from theater and painting to training inmates to maintain a stable of horses on prison grounds. 

The restaurant idea was developed by Silvia Polleri, a retired teacher who has been running a catering co-op since 2004 to help inmates. She secured funding grants from sponsors including PricewaterhouseCoopers, the global accounting firm. 

As the restaurant’s manager, she hired a professional chef and a maître d’ from outside to seat guests and handle the money. All the other employees are inmates. These waiters, dishwashers and cooks have been convicted of homicide, armed robbery and drug trafficking.

Polleri acknowledges that the restaurant may bother some people, but she doesn’t seek to offend victims. She believes prison must train inmates to become responsible citizens capable of re-entering society. InGalera recently received 4.5 stars from TripAdvisor.

The restaurant is full most nights. “People are curious about prisons. It is an unknown world to many people,” according to Massimo Parisi, the prison director. He said the recidivism rate of inmates trained in similar programs is far lower than the national average.

One inmate said, “It is a matter of pride, a way to make people happy and show them that even inmates can change and evolve.”

Italy dropped its incarceration rate by 20 percent to approximately 89 per 100,000 citizens.  This number compares to California’s current post-realignment/Proposition 47 rate of approximately 320 per 100,000 in state prisons.


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