“President, I ask you to be shot”

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“Most illustrious President, I do not intend to commit suicide. It is you who must enforce the sentence, so I ask to be shot in the prison yard. So we end this situation once and for all because, after 24 years, I don’t want to continue dying every day, but only die once ». These are the words that Salvatore Cappello, a former Sicilian mafia boss sentenced to life imprisonment, writes in the letter sent to the President of the Italian Republic, Sergio Mattarella. His request to receive the death penalty has reopened the debate in the country about the possible inhumane treatment of the ’41 bis’, the very harsh prison regime contemplated for the heads of the mafia clans.

Both the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and the European Court of Human Rights have criticized Italy on more than one occasion for the conditions of ’41a ‘, which mean the almost total isolation of the detainee. You must pass the sentence in an individual cell, you can only see an inmate during the hours of socialization and at no time do you enjoy privacy, as it is controlled 24 hours a day by prison officers. In addition, he is not allowed to have personal items and contacts with family members are minimized: only one hour of discussion per month separated by a glass. The ’41 bis’ has been applied to mafia bosses since 1992, the year in which the Sicilian Cosa Nostra were assassinated by anti-mafia magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. There are currently some 750 prisoners in this harsh regime, such as Cappello.


Punitive function.

The harsh prison regime contemplated for the heads of the mafia clans

«I have already died so many times that I can’t take it anymore. When I look into the eyes of my children and my wife I think that the death sentence is also for them. And I don’t want them to die every time they renew me (the ’41 bis’) with banal and baseless excuses. That is why I ask to die, ”writes this former criminal, who assures that more than a decade ago he broke with his criminal past. This prison regime is the nightmare of the gangsters, to the point that in the alleged negotiations between the State and Cosa Nostra to end the campaign of attacks in the early 90s of the last century, one of the conditions that the capos was to end the ’41 bis’.

“The Italian Constitution speaks of the function of reeducation of sentences, but in this prison regime it is very difficult to see it. The State considers these people unrecoverable and checks them to see how much they can endure, “says Michele Miravalle, a researcher at the University of Turin and a member of Antigone, an association that protects the rights of detainees. “‘Hard jail’ has a punitive function for the bosses of criminal organizations. It aims to prevent them from having any type of communication with the outside, but it also offers a very strong symbolic value. Show the gangsters what future awaits them.

“Very effective” measure

Rosy Bindi, former president of the Anti-Mafia Parliamentary Commission, considers that the ’41 bis’ is a “very effective” measure that prevents organized crime bosses from maintaining their authority. “It should not be eliminated or softened by appealing to humanitarian conditions, as it would mean giving the capos their power back when they are in prison. If one takes into account the situation in Italian prisons, inmates in ’41 bis’ are almost privileged, since they have a cell for themselves, “says Bindi. “There is no cruelty on the part of the State.” The former president of the Anti-Mafia Parliamentary Commission recalls that when she visited Salvatore ‘Totò’ Riina, historical boss of the Cosa Nostra, when he was admitted to the area for detainees at the Parma hospital, he found that “he was treated more or less like any other elderly man Italian”.

For a gangster to go from ‘hard prison’ to a lighter prison regime, there is only one way: to collaborate with Justice and to expose those who were his companions. «The Constitutional Court said with a 2001 judgment that the connection with the criminal organization must be proven to be broken. And how do you do that? Collaborating with magistrates. Formally, it is not said to be a requirement, but in practice it is what happens, “explains Miravalle. Although he does not know the details of the case, this activist considers that the request to be shot by Cappello shows the enormous physical and psychological suffering that the ’41 bis’ entails. Bindi, on the other hand, believes that the letter is nothing more than “a propaganda act.”

The Detainee Guarantor’s office released a report after visiting all inmates in this regime, warning that their conditions of detention were “unacceptable”.



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