This article was previously published on Ragazzidentro.it
Liz (pseudonym) is a Dominican girl who arrived in Italy as a minor, carrying drugs. She was arrested at Milan Malpensa airport in 2013 for international drug dealing, an offence committed while she was a minor. During the trial it emerged that she was persuaded to commit the crime by her mother and other family members, as very commonly occurs in international drug dealing incidents involving minors. In her home country Liz lived with her grandparents as her father died and her mother lived in Italy since she was a few months old. Liz dreamt of reuniting with her mother and was convinced, while still a minor, to carry that load of drugs to be able to pay for the trip to Italy and reunite with her mother. The Court of Milan, after 5 months and 18 days of pre-trial detention at the Pontremoli juvenile detention institution, decided to give her a chance, hand down a suspended sentence, and put Liz on probation for 1 year and 8 months. For 9 months Liz was tasked with following an integration program ordered by the judges. Welcomed in a reception house, she began to learn Italian and work. However, she wanted to reunite with her mother, mend her relationship with the woman she has seen very few times in her life, and so she decided to escape from the community where she was hosted. The Juvenile Court of Milan therefore ordered the revocation of her probation, and as such the initially suspended sentence of 3 years and 4 months of imprisonment (of a minor) became definitive.
Her detention and emancipation from Nisida
Liz was arrested in August 2016, near her mother’s home, and taken to the juvenile detention institution of Nisida, an island in the Flegrean archipelago, where about 50 minors are detained, both boys and girls. At the beginning she was wary and convinced that this time, like before, she would be able to return to being free within a short period of time. Then she realised that her detention would be longer and a sense of frustration and emptiness overcame her. As time passed, she finally managed to trust educators and psychologists and began to attend training courses and carry out small jobs within the juvenile institution. She progressed so well that the magistrate overseeing her detention, Dr. Ornella Riccio, decided in April 2018 to refer Liz to social services for the purpose of identifying a welcoming community that would host her and allow her to serve the rest of her sentence within a community setting. Unfortunately, time passed and a placement wasn’t found, as often happens, and Liz had to serve the remainder of her sentence entirely in the juvenile detention institution up until March 21, 2019.
The expulsion and escorted delivery to the border at the end of the sentence
At the end of her sentence, Liz’s expulsion from the national territory was considered a given – she was guilty of having carried out an offence on the orders of her mother and hadn’t found a support network that would have allowed her, even when free, to continue the integration program she’d undertaken in prison. In Italy, in fact, foreign adults and minors who have served a sentence are typically subject to an expulsion order handed down by the judge (as a security or alternative measure) at the time of release from prison, or by the magistrate (as an administrative measure following the absence or revocation of a residence permit).
In Liz’s case, expulsion from the nation seemed to be an obvious measure to be imposed, precisely because she had committed a crime impeding the issue of a residence permit and had already been the recipient of an expulsion order issued by the prefecture. An expulsion that had not been executed yet because she, as a minor, still had to serve a sentence. Thus in February 2019, a Naples administrator endorsed a forced escort of Liz to the border in the aftermath of her release from the juvenile detention institution.
The turning point: the constitutional judges visit Nisida
On October 4, 2018, seven judges of the Constitutional Court visited seven Italian penitentiary institutions. For the first time since its inception, the Consulta visited prisons, to engage in dialogue with those who are imprisoned and with those who work behind bars. Among the prisons chosen for this trip was the institution in Nisida. And it was Justice Giuliano Amato, on 19th October 2018, who went to the island.
Liz realised that she had a great opportunity (later immortalised in footage of a documentary made by a Rai’s TV crew that accompanied the constitutional judges during their trips to the prisons). And when Justice Amato was in front of her, she said: «It does not seem right to me that a foreigner, who has gone through prison and wants to integrate into society, is expelled. What do you think? » Then, during lunch, she sat next to the magistrate and told him her story.
From there on, the results were the outcome of a competent collaboration between various actors. Marco Ruotolo, Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Roma Tre reported the situation to the Italian Coalition for Freedoms and Civil Rights (CILD), which activated its legal team and capitalised on the experience of some of its members (Antigone and Asgi) to formulate a legal solution for the case. Thanks to the intervention of the operators of Dedalus, the intelligent approach of the director of the prison Mr. Gianluca Guida and the magistrate of the Surveillance Court of Naples, and the help of the Police Headquarters, it was possible to apply a too-often-forgotten rule: Article 18 of paragraph 6 of the Consolidated Law on Immigration. This article provides for the issuance of a residence permit at the end of a sentence to those who committed a crime as a minor and have followed a re-socialization program with an accredited association during the execution of the sentence itself.
Article 18, paragraph 6 reads verbatim: “The residence permit provided for in this article can also be issued, upon release from the institution of punishment, also on the proposal of the public prosecutor or the judge supervising the juvenile court, to the foreigner who has completed the expiation of a prison sentence, imposed for crimes committed during his/her minor age and has given concrete proof of participation in a program of assistance and social integration”.
This regulation provides for the invocation of a protection program and the issuance (on the initiative of the prosecutor, the magistrate of the juvenile court, the competent social services or an accredited association) of a residence permit for humanitarian reasons (valid for 6 months, renewable for a further year and convertible for work or study reasons) in favour of foreign people (adults or minors) who, during their minor age, committed an offence punishable by a prison sentence and for which they were sentenced (possibly also with suspension) to a detention, to an alternative or substitute sentence or to a trial, and who have successfully undertaken a “social assistance and integration program”, supported by social services or an accredited association.
This is an important tool that, after Liz’s case, has been applied two more times in Naples, and allows the minor offender (and victim, at the same time, since he/she committed the offence due to directions given by adults) to redeem himself/herself and to continue freely the reintegration measures already undertaken during the execution of their sentence. Avoiding expulsion. Just like Liz did.
Liz and her freedom
Liz’s story has a happy ending. Today she lives in a reception house of the historic Neapolitan social cooperative Dedalus, which is committed to providing assistance and reception to victims of trafficking and vulnerable people. She has a job and hopes that her former cell mates might have the same luck that she had. All this was thanks to the incredible teamwork and collaboration between institutional actors and the not-for-profit sector.
Immediately after the visit of the judges of the Constitutional Court, the director of the prison facilitated the referral of Liz to social cooperative Dedalus, present in Nisida’s juvenile detention institute (via a social and legal orientation help desk), and the magistrate with oversight advised the Naples police headquarters to issue a residence permit pursuant to Art. 18 of the Consolidated Law on Immigration. After Dedalus took over and having obtained the proposal for permission from the overseeing magistrate, we contacted the police headquarters in Naples to ask that they revoke the expulsion and forced accompaniment to the border, as a social integration program was underway, and to request that they issue a residence permit to Liz. The police headquarters undertook not to carry out the expulsion and issued the requested permit. At the end of the sentence, on March 21, 2019, Liz was then taken to a Dedalus reception house to continue her integration project and is now free on the Italian territory.
We hope that other overseeing magistrates, directors of juvenile detention institutions, immigration offices of police headquarters, and accredited bodies for the protection of victims of trafficking will follow the Neapolitan example in allowing those who commit crimes as minors to have an opportunity for integration after having concluded their sentence.
Cover via Antigone/Ragazzi dentro
Translation by Elena Radaelli. Proofreading by Fabi Fugazza.