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Aspect juridique

Article 26 of the 1975 penitentiary law (No. 354, legge penitenziaria) states that in Italy detainees have freedom to profess a religion, to educate themselves in their own creed, and practice worship. At the same time, Article 1 of the 4 March 1982 law (No. 68) provides that in the Italian prisons worship, religious education and religious assistance of the Roman Catholicism are formally entrusted to chaplains. Besides, under Article 16 of the 1975 penitentiary law, the Catholic chaplains are part of the prison commission, which draws up the penitentiary regulation. Compared with the past and under the previous legislation – when they were in charge of managing the prison library, the prison education programmes and the detainees’ correspondence – chaplains continue to celebrate sacred rites and provide for religious assistance. The core of the chaplains’ role is to transmit the Gospel and, therefore, to bring religious support in places of detention. From this point of view, the presence of chaplains in prison is legitimised in terms of religious assistance, based on the transmission of the Catholic message. This legal aspect helps to distinguish the chaplain’s roles from the functions of psychological assistants or social workers who, as stated by the Italian law, are also part of the prison organisation. Nowadays, these voluntary activities are formally ruled by both Article 78 of the mentioned 1975 Act (No. 354) and Article 120 of the 2000 Presidential Decree (No. 230) regarding regulations that implement the penitentiary legislation and the measures depriving or limiting personal freedom (Regolamento recante norme sull’ordinamento penitenziario e sulle misure privative e limitative della liberta).
Article 58 of the 2000 Presidential Decree (No. 230) also affirms that in the cases related to denominations other than Catholicism, the direction of the prison should use the ministers of those confessions whose relationships with the State are either regulated by the intese or specified by the Ministry of the Interior. Alternatively, in prison the presence of religious ministers other than chaplains may be authorised under Article 17 of the 1975 law (No. 354), through which those ministers may be included among social operators who promote and empower rehabilitation of inmates and their reintegration into society.
It is important to note that, following the example of the agreement between the Department of Penitentiary Administration (DAP), the Jehovah’s Witnesses and some Protestant Churches, on 5 November 2015 DAP and UCOII (Union of Islamic Communities and Organizations in Italy) signed a protocol, which was replied on 8 January 2020 and extended to the Italian Islamic Conference (IIC) in October of the same year : these protocols allow religious ministers to enter prisons. These protocols allow imams to offer spiritual assistance to Muslim inmates detained in Italian prisons. UCOII and IIC will provide prison administration with a list of people who “perform the functions of imam in Italy” and who are “interested in guiding prayers and worship within prisons nationwide”. The list will also specify at which mosque or prayer room each imam normally performs his worship. Imams will have to indicate their preference for three provinces where they would be willing to lead prayers for inmates.

D 16 février 2021    AFrancesco Alicino ASimona Attollino

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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