Italian prisons are hopelessly overcrowded with the countrys 207 prisons now holding 61,392 inmates instead of their official capacity of 42,959, according to Antigone, a prisoner rights group. The group is calling on parliament to pass amnesty measures to relieve this chronic overcrowding.

According to Antigone statistics, 90 per cent of prisoners are living in cells without showers, 70 per cent of cells have no hot water and 12.8 per cent have toilets situated next to the inmates bed rather than in a separate cubicle.

In Sicily there is an average of three sharing a nine sqm cell, while in Naples prisoners are confined to small spaces and are only let out for about two hours a day. Triple and quadruple bunk beds placed in the prisons in Padua and Genoa (as a solution to overcrowding) are proving hazardous.

According to recent media reports as many as 36 per cent of prisoners are still awaiting definitive convictions.

Both Pope John Paul II and the current pope have shown sympathy for the plight of prisoners and the new justice minister Clemente Mastella has announced the governments intention of attempting to get amnesty approved by parliament.