The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] ruled [judgment, in French] Tuesday that overcrowding in Italy's prisons violates the basic rights of inmates. Seven inmates at two Italian prisons filed complaints against the Italian government in 2009, alleging that the prison cells were overcrowded and that there was inadequate lighting and a lack of hot water. The court ruled that the conditions violated Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights [text, PDF], amounting to "inhuman and degrading treatment" [press release]. The court imposed a fine of €100,000 against the Italian government and ordered the government to remedy the overcrowding issues within one year.
Prison overcrowding is a common problem across the globe. In August the Colombia Ministry of Justice announced a new initiative [JURIST report] to solve the problem of overcrowding in the nation's prisons. In June UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kyung-wha Kang [official profile] urged the government of Malawi [JURIST report] to address the problem of prison overcrowding and improve the human rights condition in the country. That month Burundi announced that it would also release prisoners to solve overcrowding problems [JURIST report]. In April South Africa announced that it will issue pardons [JURIST report] to 35,000 offenders in order to ease prison overcrowding. In February Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] called for the reduction of overcrowding [JURIST report] to improve poor prison conditions in Latin America following a prison fire in Honduras, which killed more than 300 inmates and injured dozens more. In August 2011, Venezuela announced its plan to reduce its prison population [JURIST report] by 40 percent. A controversial clemency law introduced in Italy that reduced some prison sentences by three years to cut down on jail overcrowding faced criticism [JURIST report] in August 2006 after some released prisoners returned to lives of crime. Prisons in the US are facing similar problems. In May 2011 the US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [JURIST report in Brown v. Plata [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] to uphold an order requiring California to release up to 46,000 prisoners to address the problem of prison overcrowding.