Figures have been released by voluntary prison visitors that show that Italian prisons are housing excessive numbers of people, many of whom are suffering from serious infectious illnesses. On 1 June there were 59,012 people being held in 206 Italian prisons, structures designed to hold no more than 42,540 people. In many cases four and even six prisoners are being kept in cells for two people. Ten per cent of prisoners are diagnosed as sieropositive, and the figures may be higher than this as two out of three detainees refuse to undergo AIDS testing. Twelve per cent suffer from hepatitis B or C and 30 per cent of all prisoners are or have been addicted to drugs. The voluntary organisations are hoping to work with the prison authorities, the ministry of justice, and the Italian society of prison doctors to improve the sanitary situation, but many volunteers feel that the government should consider an amnesty urgently in order to reduce overcrowding.

The minister for the interior, Giuseppe Pisanu, has pointed out that Italian prisons are overcrowded because increasing numbers of illegal immigrants are sent to gaol as they are not able to take advantage of alternatives, such as bail or house arrest, that are available to Italians who commit similar offences. In 2004 almost 39 per of people arrested in the country were illegal immigrants and foreigners make up 30 per cent of the total prison population.