Tackling Human Trafficking [The Barrister Magazine]


[As published on The Barrister Magazine: http://www.barristermagazine.com/article-listing/current-issue/tackling-human-trafficking.html]

Recently human trafficking has returned in the UK media spotlight, as a study by the Centre of Social Justice has been published denouncing the Government’s failure to tackle this complex form of transational crime.

The internationally recognised definition of ‘human trafficking’ can be found in the Palermo Protocol (Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children) to the Convention against Transnational Organised Crime (the Protocol entered into force in 2003):

“Trafficking in persons” shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs… The consent of a victim of trafficking in persons to the intended exploitation set forth [above] shall be irrelevant where any of the means set forth [above] have been used.”

This complex definition seeks to capture the chain of trafficking which includes the act, the means to carry out the act and the purpose of the act. Therefore, the definition should be understood as follows:

1) The act: “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons

2) The means:by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person

3) The purpose:for the purpose of exploitation“. “Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.

It should be noted that, in each one of the three limbs of the definition, the elements listed are alternatives to be satisfied. Therefore, contrary to popular belief, a victim of human trafficking does not necessarily need to have ‘travelled’ or have been ‘transferred’. In fact, the mere recruitment is sufficient to satisfy the first limb of the definition – provided the subsequent other two limbs are satisfied too. Similarly, in the second limb of the definition, it is not necessary to prove that the victim was subjected to violence or threat of violence: other forms of coercion which satisfy the legal threshold, which are more of a psychological nature rather than physical, include the abuse of a position of vulnerability (e.g. an individual who offers to “help” an orphan). Finally, exploitation is commonly correlated to prostitution. In reality, the variety of forms of exploitation is far wider and includes the exploitation of individuals in cannabis factories, as well as in otherwise legitimate enterprises such as the textile industry (e.g. where workers are unpaid, paid under the minimum wage or made to work in unsafe and illegal conditions).

Of course, for human trafficking to be identified, all three limbs of the definition must be satisfied. This is the most complex aspect since one or more stages of the chain of human trafficking can easily be concealed. The greatest problem of this form of crime is the difficulty posed in identifying the victims and the crime itself. Often a victim might even be confused as a perpetrator, since the police might come across them for the first time in the context of the commission of a criminal offence, such as cultivating cannabis.

On 6 April 2013, the European Directive 2011/36/EU on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Human Beings and Protecting its Victims will come into force in UK, meaning that that is the deadline by which the country must fully implement it. Some of the key changes that will be brought about by this welcome piece of legislation are requirements for/to:

  • the establishment a dedicated national anti-slavery agency or Rapporteur
  • the establishment of an EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator
  • increase public awareness of human trafficking
  • set up special measures for the protection of victims and, in particular, of minors
  • the revision of definitions relating to human trafficking offences to cover a broader range of cases, to include the commission of offences within the UK territory or by UK nationals outside of the UK territory
  • the establishment of a system by which prosecution and punishment of defendants later identified as victims of human trafficking may be dropped where it is proven that their commission of criminal offences is correlated to their status as human trafficking victims.

The Crown Prosecution Service has recently published a new set of guidelines on Human Trafficking taking into account the European Directive soon coming into force. The UK needs to also work hard in cooperation with other EU Member States on raising awareness amongst officials dealing with immigrants, such as those at the UK Border Agency, as well as members of the criminal justice system including judges that all too often misunderstand the nature of this complex crime.

Calabria’s ‘Ndrangeta Controls 80% EU Drug Trafficking [Source: La Repubblica]


CASE STORY by GIOVANNI TIZIAN and FABIO TONACCI

Duisburg, province of Reggio Calabria

The ‘Ndrangeta find a second home

SOURCE: http://inchieste.repubblica.it/en/repubblica/rep-it/italian-stories/2012/06/22/news/duisburg_province_of_reggio_calabria_the_ndrangeta_find_a_second_home-37716458/

From the province on the Straits of Messina, the organization has spread throughout most of the Old World: Spain, France, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Eastern Europe. But especially, Germany. 80% of drug trafficking is in its hands. Dominating the local areas as it does in the motherland. Even if the Germans apparently haven’t noticed “Good evening!” yells the godfather. “Good evening”, the six local men sitting around the table chorus in response. Salvatore Femia takes a deep breath and then recites the formula. “My belly is a tomb, my chest is a shovel, with words of humility the company is formed.” The summit of the family of the ‘Ndrangheta, the Calabrian-based mafia, can now begin. In the back room of Femia’s restaurant the “Rikaro”, the talk is all of contracts and of doing business with the Russians. They mention “Mamma”. The police bugs also record the muffled voices of the customers in the next room of the restaurant at 3 Hegaustrasse. It is eight o’clock in the evening of 20 December, 2009. And in Singen, a small town of 45,000 in southern Germany, 2,000 km north of “Mamma” Reggio Calabria, it is a chilly evening. How much do we really about know the European infiltration of Italy’s most powerful mafia organisation, which is catching up to that of Russia in terms of turnover?

 

Germany, province of Reggio Calabria

The ‘Ndrangheta now controls 80% of drug trafficking in Europe. According to the National Anti-Mafia Directorate it earns 27 billion euros a year from drugs alone. It has colonized the whole of the EU using two basic methods: the long-established emigration from Calabria and business. Importing and distributing cocaine and heroin, it invests in real estate and tourist resorts, buying up companies and shares, practising extortion and dealing in arms. U. S. government experts rank this criminal multinational fourth in the list of the world’s most dangerous organizations, after Al Qaeda, the PKK and the Mexican narco- traffickers. And Germany is its second home. The province of Constanta, where Singen is located, is home to 7,000 immigrants, 40% of Calabrian origin. They arrived on German soil as part of the great wave of 1959 that brought 200,000 Italians to the industrial districts of North Rhine-Westphalia. Radolfzell, a town of 33,000, is another Singen. On the surface it seems as placid as the waters of Lake Constance, on which stands. But an anonymous building on Öschlestrasse was the meeting place for some of the members of the ‘Ndrangheta arrested in the Reggio Calabria anti-mafia prosecutor’s Crimine 2 inquiry. An inquiry that told Germany a truth that it had ignored, even if it had been under its nose. And that was that the Duisburg massacre of mid-August 2007, the last act of the San Luca feud that spilt the blood of the six members of the Pelle-Vottari ‘ndrina, or branch, was no isolated incident. It was not just italienish stuff. As early as 2006 a report by the Bundesnachritendienst, the German secret services, had pointed out that the ‘Ndrangheta had made a quantum leap, buying shares in Gazprom and other energy companies. Three years later, in 2009, the Federal Police stated that in Germany there were at least 230 ‘ndrine with 1800 members, mostly located in Bavaria, Hesse and North Rhine-Westphalia. Five locali or families had set up in Ravensburg, Frankfurt, Engen, Rielasingen and Singen. The Pelle, Nirta-Strangio, Vottari and Romeo families, all from San Luca, had invested millions of euros in Berlin, Cologne and Munich. In Cologne it was the Morabito from Africo, and in Stuttgart a group from Crotone had – it was suspected – set up a locale. “As well as investing”, says Michele Prestipino, deputy anti-mafia prosecutor of Reggio Calabria, “they control the area through extortion and intimidation, just as in Calabria and around Milan. They demand protection money, and not only from Calabrian immigrants. They decide who should get the vote of Italians abroad.” But how is a locale created abroad? And what relationship does it have with the gangs in Italy?

 

Mamma is always Mamma

“The French, German and Spanish governments don’t want to admit to being infected by the ‘Ndrangheta because organised crime brings money with it”, claims Luigi Bonaventura, sitting at the dining room table in the house in Termoli given to him by the witness protection programme. (“Yes, you can write that I’m in Termoli, because everyone knows by now, including those who are trying to kill me.”) Bonaventure is not just any turncoat. Five years ago he was the head of the Vrenna-Bonaventure gang of Crotone, then decided to collaborate with the authorities. “The ‘Ndrangheta has spread everywhere, but its head remains in the province of Reggio Calabria, the “Mamma” is always there”, he says. “And its real strength lies in its ability to adapt. It only takes two or three people to form a ‘ndrina. At first they have a certain autonomy, they may experiment with different criminal models, form alliances with the local underworld, adopt different strategies. But once the business reaches a certain volume, there is no escape…” Criminal models with variable geometry, but always within the boundaries drawn up by the patriarchs of the Organization. And whereas a shipment of cocaine or a property investment may not require the approval of head office, the opening of a local branch, the awarding of promotion or regulating relations between foreign clans must be discussed at the Reggio Calabria Crimine, a sort of underworld board of directors that coordinates the ‘Ndrangheta worldwide. “They have set up dozens of locali in Germany. They have money in Switzerland”, Bonaventure continues, “in the Netherlands and Belgium they control the ports. On the Côte d’Azur they have villas; they are investing in the tourism sector in Bulgaria; in the Balkan they control the drug routes. It’s not difficult to see how the ‘Ndrangheta spreads; just follow the money.”

 

Swiss companies and Italian Real Estate

And the wallets full of dirty money in the pockets of the bosses, estimated by Italian research institute Eurispes to be worth 44 billion euros in 2008, lead to Switzerland, to the banks and the world of high finance where the Ndrangheta’s loot is hidden. Prosecutor Michele Prestipino explains: “Some clans from the Tyrrhenian coast open companies in Zurich which hold securities and real estate in Italy, to evade the taxman and controls.” Italian anti-mafia investigators have identified two clans in Zurich and Frauenfeld. The “Crimine 2” investigation uncovered a character, “Ntoni lo svizzero” a. k. a. Antonio Nesci, distant cousin of the head of the Singen clan, Salvatore Femia. Investigators listened to him on the phone explaining that in Mossendorf, a Swiss village with a population of 3,000, he can count on five people, “men at my disposal”, he says. In the valleys around Zurich the gang leaders are mainly out on bail, free to manage companies and restaurants in their own names. Like Ferrazzo, the boss of the Catanzaro ndrina, in the Canton of Zurich. The money and interests of the Bellocco family of Rosarno and the Gallico and Parrello families of Palmi pass through Switzerland. These are the same clans that, a few thousand miles to the south, divided up the contracts in the years of the construction of the Salerno-Reggio Calabria motorway.

 

Allied with everyone and no one

“The ‘Ndrangheta has no problem doing business with people of every race and nation”, turncoat Saverio Morabito explained a few years ago to magistrates. It works with and exploits of all foreign criminal organisations, but never forms any real alliances. It is within this context, opportunistic and parasitical, that the networks created to control the major ports of Rotterdam, Antwerp, Barcelona and Piraeus, the entry points for drugs coming into Europe, must be understood. A recent confidential report by the Dutch police states that: “Between Amsterdam, Hoofddorp, Diemen and Amstelveen there are at least twenty Calabrian bosses and about a hundred ‘Ndrangheta gang members dealing in weapons, heroin, cocaine and pills. They have luxury apartments in Minerva Square in Amsterdam and carry out their business undisturbed because the Dutch government is not aware of their criminal pasts.” They are connected to the Nirta-Strangio and Romeo families of San Luca (Giovanni Strangio, a leading figure in the Duisburg massacre, was arrested March 12, 2009 here in the suburb of Diemen) and to the ndrine of Ciro and Corigliano Calabro. The report says that the ‘Ndrangheta has contacts with the five most dangerous criminals in the Netherlands. And that is not all. To control the port of Rotterdam, where 30% of all the cocaine from Colombia arrives (about 36,000 kilos comes in every year on ships, hidden in containers of fruit), it exploits a strategic alliance with the Albanian mafia. And it obtains information and impunity by infiltrating its people into the police, people like Barbara Fun, a 39-year-old Dutch woman who, thanks to friends in the secret services, was able to work in the Haaglanden Regional Police until 2010, despite being arrested in Portugal in 1992 along with two members of the Di Giovane-Serraino clan. The ‘Ndrangheta has been talking to the Russian mafia since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The “language” is always the same, weapons and cocaine. On the Balkan drug route, which starts in Afghanistan and passes through Greece, Romania, Albania and the countries of the former Yugoslavia, the ‘Ndrangheta has links to all the indigenous criminal groups. The mafia of Serbia-Montenegro offered to deliver heroin and cocaine directly to the Calabrese in Milan. The Magna Charta operation of the Carabinieri Special Operations Group, which on 4 June last year led to the arrest of thirty smugglers across Europe, exposed the axis that was created for transport by sea between a Piedmont gang affiliated to the Bellocco of Rosarno and the businessman Evelin Banev, suspected of being one of the leaders of the Bulgarian mafia. Luigi Bonaventura told Repubblica: “My uncle Sergio Vrenna also has business with the Bulgarian mafia, sharing with them the “code of the knife”, the mafia code of honour. Just go and look at the Calabrian real estate investments in the Black Sea coastal resorts. All ours.” And then there is Barcelona.

 

Barcelona, the new Marseille

The Catalan capital is the new crossroads of the European mafias. “We are all there, it’s like Marseille in the 80s”, members of the ‘Ndrangheta have been saying for years. In Barcelona we have the Calabrian clan of the Piromalli-Mole of Gioia Tauro, the Camorra clans of the Licciardi Secondigliano, the Di Lauro clan and the Frizziero of Naples. Then there are the emissaries from the Mexican and Colombian drug traffickers, whose cocaine joint venture with the Ndrangheta is now established and operating smoothly. Here in the restaurants around the Ramblas they fix the price of the large shipments of drugs arriving from South America. The last to end up in jail was Carmelo Gallico, 48, known as “U Picu”, head of the gang of the same name from Palmi. He was hiding in a house in the university district of Barcelona ?? and fictitiously investing in property in Italy. Spanish soil was rendered fertile by a particular character: Santo Maesano, a. k. a. Hoffa, a. k. a. the Professor, the head of the Maesano-Pavaglianiti Calabrian families. Francesco Forgione talks about him in his book “Mafia Export”. Having moved to Spain in the late nineties, Maesano was one of the biggest drug traffickers in the world. From Madrid’s Valdemoro prison he conducted business with his contacts in Colombia and Venezuela, bought weapons and entertained his deputy, Vincenzo Romeo. For him, Valdemoro prison was more like a rest home that a real prison. In Spain there is no special regime for mafia prisoners like Italy’s Article 41bis. In Switzerland crime bosses move around openly. In Germany even the wives of arrested ‘Ndrangheta members receive unemployment benefit of 365 euros a month. “And they are exempt from paying rent”, says Vito Giudicepietro, a representative of the Inca-CGIL welfare office in Singen, a point of reference for the Italian community. How is this possible? How is the ‘Ndrangheta being combated abroad?

 

In Europe the ‘Ndrangheta does not exist

The problem is that, technically, the mafia does not exist in the legal codes of European states. The crime of criminal association of a mafia nature only exists in Italy, introduced in 1982. Elsewhere belonging to a gang, being part of a recognized ‘ndrina, it is not a crime per se. Unless a specific crime is committed the police cannot seize mafia assets nor issue detention orders. “Organized crime is growing and we are blind”, was how French Police Commissioner Jean-Francois Gayraud summed up the situation to the European anti-mafia commission few days ago. According to Prestipino, “The lack of such laws is the biggest obstacle. In Europe, the institutions have trouble understanding the dangers of organised crime clans and their power to intimidate.” But something is changing. The DIA, the Italian Anti-Mafia Investigation Department, is increasingly being used as a model by other police forces. The 111 requests sent in 2011 by the DIA to other European countries (34 to Spain, 27 to the Netherlands, 14 to Germany and 7 to Belgium) met with the kind of collaboration they deserved. And in Brussels the Director-General of OLAF (the EU’s Anti-Fraud Office), Giovanni Kessler, after reporting an increase of 10% in investigations into economic and financial crime by organized gangs, adopted a new line. “We need a single European entity with the power to investigate and prosecute. We need a European Prosecution service.” 22 giugno 2012 © Riproduzione riservata

ICC’s Failure to Protect its Officials


Since 7 June 2012, four officials of the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) Office of Public Counsel for Defence (OPCD), including Australian lawyer Melinda Taylor, have been detained in Libya.

Image

I had the pleasure of meeting Melinda Taylor last year during the course of my LL.M. and she gave me some useful advice for my thesis.  I have always admired her competence, professionalism and commitment, therefore I was shocked to say the least when I heard the news of her detention in Zintan, near Tripoli.

She, and the other three ICC officials, have been accused of trying to pass on “dangerous” documents to Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi. Gaddafi is son of  Muammar Gaffafi and is facing ICC charges of crimes against humanity.

Under the 1998 Rome Statute and in compliance with the principles of fair trial and respect of the rule of law, each Defendant at the ICC is entitled to a number of rights deriving from his/her right of defence:

– right to appoint a counsel of his choice

– right to have adequate time and facilities to prepare his defence

– right to communicate freely and in confidence with his lawyers

The latter includes the right to freely discuss and exchange documents with his lawyers.

This clearly shows that the detention of the ICC officials is unjustified and a violation of international law. Not only is there no legal basis for their detention, but their right to international immunity has been violated.

This situation highlights the hot topic of who should bring to justice the accused former regime figures: whether it should be a right of the newly established Libyan authority or whether it should be left to the International Criminal Court. It appears that, on top of the UN mandate deriving from the UN Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973 allowing the ICC to open the Libyan case, under Article 17 of the Rome Statute (principle of complementarity), Libya should be considered “unable” to try individuals such as Saif Gaddafi for the simple fact that the current Libyan authorities cannot guarantee impartiality and fairness of trial.

This is hotly disputed and their conduct in respect of ICC officials clearly shows that they are prepared to overstep international law in order to affirm their independence and sovereignty. It remains unclear how they expect to claim legitimacy and credibility on the international scene whilst violating international law and not complying with the rights of the accused to a fair trial. Furthermore, this situation seems to reveal that the ICC had not made arrangements suitable to secure the safety of its officials prior to sending them to Libya and, ultimately, ensure their protection.

Age Discrimination: Too Young or Too Old?


Two major decisions handed down last week by the UK Supreme Court have brought the issue of age discrimination back under the spotlight. Mandatory retirement age was abolished in the UK in 2011, although employers can still apply it if they can justify it on the grounds of proportionality in achieving a legitimate aim.

Both cases, Seldon v Clarkson Wright and Jakes and Homer v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police, dealt with employees being discriminated directly or indirectly in relation to their retirement age. The two situations were however rather different. In Seldon, the claimant was a solicitor required to leave the law firm Clarkson Wright & Jakes (CWJ) at the age of 65th according to the partnership agreement. This policy was justified on the basis of integrating younger people and giving partnership opportunities to young generations. In Homer, the claimant was a legal adviser with the police national legal database who alleged that he was subject to indirect age discrimination as he was ineligible for a promotion that required him to have a law degree. His argument was that, given he was aged 62; he could not obtain a law degree before the age of retirement (65) and thereby apply for the promotion.

Neither ruling determined the outcome in the specific cases, as both were sent back to the employment tribunals. However, Lady Hale delivered both principal judgments essentially concluding that both age discrimination claims had some merits but that specific circumstances had to be considered. Lady Hale concluded, in Seldon, that to justify a policy it is not sufficient for an employer to show that it has an aim that is capable of being a public interest aim (such as the aim to integrate young people thereby dismissing older partners / employees) and that it must in addition be shown that it is actually a legitimate aim in the particular circumstances of the employment. In Homer, the claimant’s appeal was dismissed and it was held that the requirement of holding a law degree could be considered indirect discrimination but that this depended upon a valid justification on the side of the employers.

These cases highlight the basic fact that age is not a condition of an individual (such as disability) nor a permanent characteristic which is subdivided into generally speaking clear-cut ‘categories’ within society (gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation): age is rather a specific situation part of human life. There is no clear boundary between one phase of life or another. The ability to work in later years really depends on the individuals’ mental and physical health. However, businesses are likely to consider that at an older age, people might be less flexible and adaptable than younger people thereby slowing down their work activity or reducing innovation. This clearly is a delicate topic, as one can see both sides easily and must be careful to argue heavily either way given the implications on society as a whole. But what, in my opinion, is the strongest argument in favour of mandatory retirement age, would be the possibility of opening up the job market to young people. Just like dignity of old workers is considered and protected, the same should apply to young people who are either struggling to find employment or, once on the job, are not given enough chances to show what they are capable of.

Michael Skapinker argued in his article on the Financial Times (The Law is a Grey Area for Employers of the Aged, Thursday 3rd May 2012) that the Supreme Court rulings made the law even more woolly that it already is, thereby leaving uncertainty amongst employers as to what they are and what they are not entitled to do in relation to retirement ages. Michael Skapinker makes the fairly obvious but excellent point that “we all start off young and, with luck and good health, end up old. If the law acts to protect the elderly, we will all benefit one day.” Yet, however tempting it might be to agree with him, I must resist this point. Society will not benefit now or tomorrow if there is no generational interchange and if older employees have no “time limitations” than enable newer generations to step in. This clearly results in older generations holding the economic and labour power, whilst being forced to support younger generations unable to sustain themselves, to repay university debts and to start-up families. Whilst Mr. Homer (Homer v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police) might have felt that it was unfair to him to be ineligible for a position requiring a law degree, it would be equally if not more unfair to make a position for a law graduate impossible to reach because old staff – regardless of their qualifications – can have priority over them. I struggle to see how this will benefit the young a few years along the line.

The Supreme Court might be implicitly supporting this view as its rulings effectively mean that employers are entitled to require older staff to leave, provided this is justified on stronger grounds than mere cost cutting and improvement of competition. However, in considering two cases which effectively approach the issue of age discrimination from the one-sided perspective of the older staff, one should not forget, in the wake of the London riots, society’s interest in providing jobs – and dignity – to younger generations.

Behind the Bars


Although it was not my first visit to a prison, it did not feel just like any other day. It was early, still pitch dark outside. Trying to figure out what clothes to wear was rather difficult. I knew it was sensible not to wear any low cut tops or short skirts (rather obvious), but I was also advised not to wear scarves or elegant clothes. I opted for a pair of jeans and a sweater. I also knew that I could not take anything possibly relating to computers, such as USB sticks or CDs, but also I couldn’t take in chewing gums which apparently are used by inmates to force the locks open (don’t ask me how!).

Waiting at the bus stop, there I was: standing in the freezing cold on my way to HMP Pentonville Prison in London.  Some notorious inmates of this prison have been George Michael and Pete Doherty (who also wrote a song called Pentonville). When I arrived, I was surprised to find that the building is very visible from the main road and houses are built very close-by. In fact, some of the cells’ windows can be easily seen from the road. I got in through the main entrance and had to get a Visitor’s pass after having had my fingerprints and a photograph taken by security. No mobile phones could go past security, so I left mine in a locker. Clearly, no cameras could be taken inside either so the photographs in this post were found online and were not taken by me.
When I walked in, accompanied by internal staff, it was the time of what is called ‘free flow’, that is, when cells are unlocked (I think different wings are unlocked in turns and not all cells are unlocked, e.g. those with high security regime) and prisoners are moving from one wing to another heading to whichever activity they’re meant to attend. These activities can be educational or simply taking a shower. ‘Free flow’ lasts for about half an hour and it takes place about twice every day. When it ends, everything is locked up again and inmates are either back in their cells or in another space where they’re undertaking an activity such as a workshop. I couldn’t help but notice that the great majority of inmates was either black or Asian, although there were a few whites too. From what I saw, most of them were also quite young.

Pentonville was the first prison in Great Britain to put into practice the enlightened ideas of the prison reformer, John Howard. Built in 1840-42 to the designs and under the direction of Major (later Sir) Joshua Jebb, Surveyor General of Prisons, it pioneered the separate housing of inmates in wings radiating out from a central hall. (Source: http://www.elton-engineeringbooks.co.uk/highlights/jebb.htm) The only time it stopped being used as a prison for English inmates was during the Second World War, when it was used to hold German prisoners. Other than that, it’s been actively in use since it was first opened.

Source: http://www.elton-engineeringbooks.co.uk/highlights/jebb.htm

Pentonville has 7 residential wings:

  • A wing – Induction and First Night Centre. This wing has recently been refurbished to cater for new arrivals into custody.
  • B wing – Resettlement wing
  • C and G Wings are for remand and convicted prisoners and provide services including education, workshops and offending behaviour courses
  • D Wing – Is the enhanced wing
  • E Wing – Substance Misuse Unit
  • F Wing – IDTS (Stabilisation Unit)

I walked through one of the wings (I am not actually sure which one it was, but I think it must have been either C or G) and I was surprised by the brightness of the spaces. Of course, the light is not as abundant in the cells. Some of the cells, those for vulnerable inmates, are actually in the basement and have no natural light. The prison was built for around 600 prisoners, however now the prisoners are more than 1200 and all cells (intended for one individual only) host two prisoners. Although I didn’t actually walk inside a cell, I could see they were tiny and there was barely room for a bunk bed and a table where prisoners eat. In fact, they collect food and eat in their own cells rather than in a shared canteen. Breakfast is collected together with the evening meal, but most of them apparently eat it in the evening or at night because they’re hungry and end up skipping breakfast the following morning. Some cells have a TV, which the inmates pay for. I was told that, although it seems like an excessive privilege, it is actually a very good weapon to use to make sure the prisoners behave well. In fact, I understood that the threat or the actual act of taking away the TV is sometimes more effective than any other threat. Clearly, spending so many hours locked up, the worst thing is making time go by without going crazy. It is also better to let them watch TV rather than get into fights with each other or using drugs (although they probably do it anyway, although Pentonville has gone down hard on the fight against drugs given the recent scandals).

I had the opportunity to see a classroom which was actually well equipped, with some computers, a board, large tables and chairs. The computers don’t have internet connection and even the staff’s own computers, which are located in separate sections of the wings, to which prisoners have no access, have limited access to internet. Although this might sound obvious, every single space is separated by locked gates which need to be unlocked to go through and locked immediately after. Even to simply access the staff’s toilet or a staircase, there will be one or two locked gates and doors to get through. On my way out, the food was being served for lunch and the smell was absolutely unpleasant and I surely did not feel hungry after that.

 Source: The Guardian

It was a very interesting experience, because, while one can imagine what a prison is like from all the films that depict life in prison, the reality is not as ‘cool’ as television and the cinema make it appear.

A report published in June 2011 by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons for England and Wales (HMI Prisons), sadly confirms my general perception of the building’s state:

 “Pentonville is an iconic prison, but not always for the right reasons: its four central wings are over a hundred and fifty years old, it has a large and transient population drawn from some of London’s poorest boroughs, and its prisoners have amongst the highest incidence of mental ill health and substance abuse of any local prison in the country. […]Pentonville is amongst the most challenging local prisons in the country to run. Its ageing and crowded fabric offers limited scope for change or development, its population is not only transient but also hugely needy – and sometimes challenging – and resources are declining. Despite all this, managers and staff were working hard to make the prison a safer and more decent place. There was now a little more purposeful activity and some exciting, if nascent, ideas to work with local authorities to improve resettlement outcomes. It goes without saying that there is much more to do. Indeed the scale of the issues facing Pentonville means that it is also essential that the prison is supported by an effective London-wide strategy – but there is now at least a positive sense of direction.”

Source: The Guardian

The most overwhelming feeling even for someone who, like myself, knew perfectly well I’d be inside for no more than a couple of hours, is that, as you walk in, you lose control of what’s happening around you. The doors and gates rapidly being locked behind you, you realise that if – for any reason – you actually wanted to leave, you would not be able to do so without having someone able to let you out. Despite that, I actually came out feeling quite positive about the overall experience: seeing the prisoners so close-by, walking right next to them, reminded me that, even if many – if not most of them – have committed some serious crimes, they are humans. Some of them are there because they probably were unlucky enough to be born in the wrong place, to the wrong family or ended up mixing with the wrong crowds.

That is not to say that I feel sorry for them or that I would forgive the crimes they have committed and for the pain they’ve caused to others. Rather, it is to say that seeing a prison from inside has made even stronger, in my eyes, the case in favour of Article 6 (European Convention of Human Rights) rights. When you see with your own eyes what life in prison means, you understand why the criminal justice system must strive to secure convictions of the guilty and ensure acquittal of the innocent. Unfortunately, even in a perfectly well-oiled criminal justice machine, there are bound to be mistakes. This is why the importance of the right to a fair trial in full respect of the presumption of innocence, the equality of arms and the impartiality of the tribunal, must never be underestimated or taken for granted. The natural continuation of the right to a fair trial is the full compliance with human rights inside the prison, that is not to say to give unlimited privileges to prisoners but simply to remember that they are humans despite the inhumanity of some of their actions and – if we are to call ourselves a modern society – we must strive to respect their human dimension and, if possible, help them to rediscover it through rehabilitative and educational programmes.

Source: The Guardian

For anyone interested in more information on HMP Pentonville or the prison system in general, I have found this website very informative and useful: http://www.insidetime.org/info-regimes2.asp?nameofprison=HMP_PENTONVILLE.

The pictures in this post (except for the image of Jebb’s drawings of the prison plan) were all published by The Guardian online.

The Unspoken Consequences of the Crisis


Here we are, in the festive season, rushing to buy presents and to organise family gatherings. It appears that we have been longing for this time of the year, when we finally take a break from work and enjoy the warmth of our fireplaces with our dearest. Most blogs are posting about lovely snowfalls and romantic white landscape.

Yet, in today’s online edition of the European Observer, one of the main headlines reports on an unspoken issue: the mental health consequences of the financial crisis in Europe.  In a short video, we are told how suicide rates are on the rise and the human rights expert Gabor Petri, from Mental Health Europe, describes how citizens are being affected.

I do not intend to spoil the festive mood, however I want to spare a moment to look at the reality of things around us.

Are we all really that happy?

Let’s face it: there are many families who can’t reach the end of the month, let alone buy Christmas presents and spend money on luxiurious family dinners. No one might want to think about it or admit it, but the tension in the financial markets has entered our homes. Clearly, there are different levels of ‘crisis’. I am no expert in the field, but economic hardship has historically been associated with deep changes in society, such as rise in crime rates, family break-ups or mental health issues. This crisis is not exempt from such unfortunate and undesired consequences.

Young people often don’t see the point in carrying on with their studies, since obtaining a degree no longer guarantees or increases chances of employment. In Italy, young generations are supported by the old, retired generation. The cycle of life seems to have turned around and it is upsetting the balance of society, by harming our mental health and stability. The old are helping the young, and the young feel they are not ‘useful’ to society or themselves. However, also the old are affected: we know that higher and higher numbers of old people who have no longer the means to sustain themselves and see their pension benefits cut on a daily basis. They find themselves old, alone and poor with younger generations unable to help them.

According to the European Observer statistics in today’s article “Mental health problems on the rise during financial crisis”, almost 1 in 10 Europeans is affected by mental health issues. These issues are not blatant and tend to be an ‘unspoken’ problem. People are scared of mental health issues yet many are affected by them, unknowingly. When presenting for the first time a European Commission paper on Mental Health issues in Europe (17 October 2011), the European Health Commissioner, Markos Kyprianou, stated:

“I can think of no other disease that would remain so low profile if such a high percentage of the population were struck by it. Mental health has been swept under the carpet for too long.”
 
Whether we like it, or not, perhaps this is a good time of the year to think about some of these serious unspoken consequences of the financial crisis and stop sweeping them under the carpet as some merely old-fashioned taboo.

What Berlusconi’s Resignation Really Means


Saturday 12th November 2011, 9.42 pm: a date and time which I will never forget.

To a non-Italian, this might appear an overstatement. But, trust me, it is not. I will remember this date not as Berlusconi’s resignation, but as Italy’s comeback to political discourse.

As an Italian Londoner, I am confronted on a daily basis with questions on Italy’s economic crisis and – ultimately – Berlusconi’s stay in power for so long. To my surprise, most people I have spoken to (from all over the world) seem to find Berlusconi a very amusing character, someone who has smartly albeit wrongly drawn attention on himself by conducting a brave sexual life.  I feel enraged when I hear this. Italians (note: those who DID not vote for him) have been enduring far more than a comedian’s act based on excessive sexual actions. The reasons why us, enraged and outraged Italians (the ‘indignati’ movement – ‘indignati’ meaning ‘outraged’), have been long campaigning for Berlusconi to step down bear much deeper roots.

Back to the Roots of the Problem

These roots go back to the beginning of Berlusconi’s career, when he emerged as a self-made business man through allegedly illicit financial transactions. Over the years, he has been involved in a high number of court proceedings leading him to enter into politics to pursue the goal of achieving political immunity from legal suits against him. Ever since he’s been in politics, he’s built up a caste of people to form his party, the PDL – Party of Freedom, resembling rather a mafia-entourage rather than a selection of politicians committed to an ideology or a cause. The party’s members have as a minimum common denominator the involvement in judicial proceedings, in the media and business empire led by the Berlusconi family and the party life-style culminating in the so well-known ‘Bunga Bugas’. So, as it is clear from this picture, the sexual aspect of Berlusconi’s political ‘peformance’ represents only one face of his role in Italy’s political landscape.

The reality is that Italy is sinking not only because Berlusconi has destroyed Italy’s reputation abroad with his extravagant life-style, but – first and foremost – because all he’s done for the past years in power has been implementing laws to protect his personal interests and those of his carefully selected entourage. These laws, the so-called ‘ad personam’ laws, have been attacking the judiciary and have destroyed the public sector. All social classes in Italy have been attacked directly or indirectly by himself or by members of his government. Teachers have been insulted by one of the Ministers, Mr Brunetta. Judges have repeatedly been target as ‘manipulators of the law’, ‘red gowns’ acting on behalf of evil Communists. Universities have been systematically seen their research funds withdrawn accompanied by attacks against the university barons who suck money from the State to maintain the status quo and prevent political freedom in Italy.

Some commentators have suggested that Italy has been experiencing a sort of ‘silent dictatorship’. The Government and Berlusconi, backed up by lines and lines of supporters, have reduced the freedom of speech in a country where anyone opposing the Government’s policies (i.e. the ‘ad personam’ laws) has been accused of siding with the Communists, of acting against the country’s interest. All this has eventually led to the death of political discourse.  All Italy’s been discussing for years has been how to get rid of Berlusconi and – on the other side – how to get rid of Berlusconi’s opponents. The real problems of the country – unemployment, lack of funding in the education and health sectors, the massive bureaucratic problems in the judiciary, the high rates of tax evasion (only to mention some) – have been not only ignored but denied. Italy’s own government (and opposition) lost track of the real world and locked themselves up in a useless debate.

We’ve seen a dramatic impact of Italy’s political deadlock on immigrants from the Northern-African region arriving in Lampedusa (https://littleexplorer.wordpress.com/2011/04/02/desperation-in-lampedusa/). Italy showed its inability to tackle the situation due to the absolute absence of policy and political discourse on immigration which went beyond mere right-wing extremist statements on expelling all foreigners regardless of their circumstances.

Europe’s Blindness

Why has Europe not seen the relationship between these dramatic facts and Berlusconi’s government? Why has it taken so long for the world to notice that Italy was rapidly sinking? The answer lies once again in economic interest.

I participated in anti-Berlusconi demonstrations and saw crowds and crowds of people feeling the same way as I did (and still do): outraged, “indignati”. I was so surprised that there had been such a little coverage, that I emailed photos of the demonstrations to many newspapers. I published a few of my photos of these demonstrations on my blog back in February 2011: https://littleexplorer.wordpress.com/2011/02/13/italy-says-no-to-berlusconis-brothel/

The Economist published several articles denouncing the situation in Italy, one of which clearly outlined and predicted the present catastrophe – https://littleexplorer.wordpress.com/2011/06/16/the-man-who-screwed-an-entire-country-the-economist/.

What Next?

Now what? Berlusconi’s resignation is important but it is not the last act of his performance. Roberto Saviano – one of Italy’s most famous writers who is currently living under protection in a secret location to avoid mafia’s reprisals – has published an article on The Guardian commenting on the future ahead (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/nov/11/silvio-berlusconi-own-interests-italy?newsfeed=true).

The defeat of Berlusconi is not yet the defeat of his entourage and of the political attitude promoted by them. These are going to be the next steps and thy will require all Italians – as well as Europeans – not to forget about Berlusconi’s conduct. I would not like to see him being re-elected a few months or a year down the line, when he will claim that the new government has failed to solve the crisis. Re-opening political discourse after a long ‘dogmatic sleep’, to say it in Kantian terms, will mean facing open scars and making tough choices to mend them.

 

It is clear that hard times are over, but harder times are to come if Italy wants to have any hope of building on its ruins.

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