Sentencing and Penal Policies in Italy, 1985–2015: The Tale of a Troubled Country

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Significant changes in Italian political, socioeconomic, and institutional contexts since 1985 have led to markedly harsher policies and laws. Sentencing law and penal policies have changed substantially. In the late 1980s, the legislature embraced rehabilitation in corrections and enacted a new Code of Criminal Procedure modeled on principles and values typical of adversarial legal systems. The demise in the early 1990s of the so-called First Republic due to the massive bribery scandal known as Mani Pulite (“Clean Hands”) profoundly affected the structure and functioning of the political system, perceptions of crime, and shaping of penal policies. Despite stable and declining crime rates, over time governments have enacted policies overrelying on criminal sanctions. Particular categories of offenders, undocumented immigrants and drug offenders, have been hit especially hard. Rapidly growing imprisonment rates produced overcrowding that was tackled mostly with alternatives to implementation of custodial sentences and pretrial detention. Persisting signs of punitive moderation for the most part are attributable to the inherent inefficiency of the criminal justice system, the “disintegration” of punishment at different stages of the process, and realpolitik policies adopted to address supranational concerns.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-173
Number of pages67
JournalCrime and Justice
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 07 Jul 2016


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