Six inmates dead after coronavirus riots in Italian prisons

Six inmates have died in an Italian jail after riots broke out over visitation bans introduced amid the coronavirus lockdown, according to local reports.

The prisoners broke into the infirmary at a prison in Modena, near Bologna, during the chaos and overdosed on methadone, Italian officials confirmed.

Family visits have been restricted under an emergency law after the government placed 16 million residents under quarantine in the north of the country. The move sparked revolt in a Modena prison by inmates who were angry they wouldn’t be able to see their loved ones.

They reacted by taking two guards hostage and setting mattresses on fire, before breaking into the infirmary, according to local reports.

Protests broke out in more than two dozen prisons on Sunday, which continued well into Monday, in Naples Poggioreale in the south, Frosinone in central Italy and at Alexandria in the northwest, while some inmates escaped from a prison in Foggia.

Human rights advocates have been warning that increasing tensions over fears of coronavirus were hitting inmates particularly hard, especially after the restrictions were imposed on family visits to prevent transmissions. Italy is facing the worst outbreak of the virus outside China with 7,375 confirmed cases and 366 deaths.

Secretary general of the penitentiary police union, Donato Capece, accused the government of abandoning the prison system and refusing to provide sufficient measures to prevent the spread of the virus among inmates.

He also claimed guards were being left on their own to deal with prisoners who could now only speak to relatives by phone or Skype.

‘The administration is completely absent,’ he said. ‘They have left the penitentiary police in jeopardy.’

Italy’s overburdened court system has ground to a near halt because of virus containment measures, increasing tensions among prisoners already forced to endure long delays in justice.

On Sunday, two prison officers in Modena were injured and around 20 staff members had to leave the prison.

At Frosinone, south of Rome, police were called in to restore order after around 100 prisoners barricaded themselves into a section of the prison.

The protesting inmates drew up a list of demands, including the right to have visits from their loved ones, and tried to negotiate with the prison management, the Agi news agency reported.

It came after the entire Lombardy region was put on lockdown in its battle to contain Covid-19, restricting the movement of about a quarter of its population and shutting down its financial capital Milan.

So far, only limited areas of virus-hit Lombardy- known as ‘red zones’ – have been quarantined. The tough new measures place a ban on anyone entering or leaving the northern region and 11 other provinces, including Venice.

In the most severe-escalation of coronavirus prevention laws outside of China, people will face fines or even imprisonment if they break the rules.

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