Perhaps not everyone knows that in Italy, in spite of an impelling need to regulate the traditions and customs of Islam, which counts has about 1.4 million followers in Italy, there is no agreement  stipulated between the state and “Islam”. This premise is fundamental for understanding the chaos surrounding the practice of this religion in Italy. The absence of a formal agreement with Islam leaves an enormous void for Muslim believers who find obstacles when it comes to practicing their faith on a daily basis.
Unlike what happens in other European nations, one could cite the lack of halal food in school cafeterias, hospitals, and prisons, the fact that according to employment contracts Friday is not a day off, unhelpful for attending prayers at mosques, the lack of beneficiaries in the designation of the 8×1000 income tax contribution,  the impossibility to have a son circumcised in a public health-care facility, or be buried in compliance with Islamic funeral rites. This is only part of a long list of practices not regulated by Italian law. This issue is not even debated at a political level, mostly due to the absence of a legal forum in which such a discussion could be held.
Nowadays, the need for such regulations is perceived not only as a failure to apply the rights of religious minorities outlined by our constitution, but also as a requirement to safeguard peaceful co-existence in our country between foreign residents and Italians belonging to minority religions. This legal void not only affects Muslim families who find themselves struggling to reconcile their own religious practices with everyday life, but also affects the daily routine of every person living in the country, creating inevitable entropy. As part of a single organism, the boomerang effect inexorably spreads and the ethics of convenience and co-existence must be dealt with. Hence, if a city has not built mosques or has not regulated areas dedicated to the Islamic religion, it is highly probable that one will find a steady coming and going of faithful in the condominium courtyard on their way to pray in a room within the building designated for worship or reading a newspaper an article reporting the death of a baby because he was circumcised at home.
It must be acknowledges that the failure to reach such an agreement is not only due to indifference or political incapacity, but also to the fragmentation and lack of coordination among various Islamic organizations. For the moment there are three drafts of an agreement submitted by the Islamic federations. Obviously this does not facilitate the government’s job, as it finds itself at an impasse, incapable of signing even one of them to avoid offending the others, thus delegitimizing in fact and in practice the signing of any potential agreement. The three individual agreements presented underline the variety of representatives of the Islamic world that have not yet succeeded in following the example set by other European nations, where instead they have constituted a single federation that enables them to take a more authoritative stand and act with a united voice in official settings. Internal differences should give way to the concept of ummah and give rise to an “associative federalism” that respects the uniqueness of the different associations, but at the same time unites them in a single, democratically-elected organisation.
Thus some issues, or better yet rights denied or not codified by our regulations have become hot topics for sensationalist and alarmist journalism in Italy, following the dramatic terrorist attacks in Europe. One issue of great interest to public opinion in the wake of efforts to safeguard national and international security, which for several months has been on the front pages of many newspapers, is the battle against the radicalisation phenomena in our prisons, supposedly used as training centres for potential jihadists. Speaking of prison settings, the question of spiritual assistance for Islamic inmates has become increasingly urgent and a priority for the political agenda. It is regretful that the current concern was not the result of a philanthropic spirit paying attention to minorities and aimed at ensuring the support and rehabilitation that must be guaranteed to any inmate, also providing spiritual assistance, but has come from fear that Muslim inmates may become fanatics who, once released from prison, will blow themselves up in the first public place that is not sufficiently protected.
In this case, such an emergency and fear are sustained by the collective interest in legitimizing and safeguarding a right; that of freedom of religion for minorities.
The case of penal institutions underlines how, in Italy, it is obvious that a great number of sound practices are not the result of the application of government circulars or directives in a “top-down” perspective, but arise from intuition coming from local areas and their administrations. In this article, we propose and provide a forum for players who have given rise to a good experience in continuing to guarantee religious assistance to Muslim inmates held at the “Le Vallette e Cutugno” correctional facility, better known as Le Vallette, with the collaboration of two Islamic faith associations, the Associazione Islamica delle Alpi and the Associazione AFAQ, with mediation and support from “Integration Policies and New Citizens” District 7 Forum in the City of Turin. 
Prison; between redemption and damnation
“La prison, c’est la putain de meilleure école de la criminalité”, words spoken as early as 2007 by Amedy Coulibaly, who, six years later, was killed in a police raid on the Hyper Cacher at Porte de Vincennes in Paris, but not before having killed four Jewish hostages. During his years of detention, he had become a close friend of Djamel Beghal, a former member of GIA, the Armed Islamic Group of Algerian, and had become radicalized. His question still echoes in the public mind. “Comment vous voulez apprendre la justice avec l’injustice?” Coulibaly is the symbol of the phenomenon of radicalization in prisons. Unfortunately his is not an isolated case.
In Italy, four inmates in the Italian Guantanamo, the Rossano Calabro prison, recently echoed this same sentiment by shouting “Long live a free France” (of infidels) after having heard of the Paris attacks last November. Only a few weeks later, another Egyptian inmate, this time in Bologna, was expelled for having praised ISIS and the Paris attacks, hoping for another massacre. At the beginning of 2016, in prisons from Calabria to Bolzano, the Internet room was closed because some prisoners had connected to jihadist websites.
According to statistics for 2013, Italian prisons hold approximately 13,500 Muslim inmates out of a total of 64,760, of which 8,732 are practicing Muslims. Of these, 350 are under close surveillance. There are 21 inmates being held for international terrorism and they are all being held in the high security prison in Rossano Calabro. Figures updated as of January15th, 2015 provided by the Associazione Antigone, however, states that there are 5,786 Muslim inmates. Furthermore, it seems that only 52 penitentiaries out of the 202 surveyed are equipped with rooms used as mosques, where the faithful can pray. 
Italian Minister of Justice Andrea Orlando, speaking at the conference entitled “The Islamic State and the Jihadist Threat: what is the answer?” said that, “It is necessary to contain the risks of radicalization in prisons, taking into account that more than one third of inmates come from Islamic countries (…) and that prisons are places where an extremist vision of Islam can be imparted, with a capacity for proselytising, yet we must ensure the right to worship in institutions in order to avoid a boomerang effect as has happened in Guantánamo.”
Hence in Turin, before the media frenzy about radicalization in prisons and the Memorandum of Understanding signed on November 5th, 2015 at a national level between the DAP and the UCOII, the “Lorusso e Cutugno” correctional facility, thanks to the sensitivity and insight of Director Domenico Minervini, who took over in May 2014, had already initiated cooperation with two Islamic associations in Turin (the Associazione Islamica delle Alpi and the Associazione AFAQ). Cooperation was provided by the VAS association. These associations respectively are under the authority of the Islamica Taiba prayer centre in Via Chivasso 19 and the Mosque of Peace in Corso Giulio Cesare 39 and work to initiate ongoing spiritual assistance for Muslim inmates that goes beyond the celebration of Ramadan and that has already been taking place within the penitentiary for several years.
This experience involving about 350 Muslim inmates, out of a total of approximately 1,200, began in February 2016 following extensive facilitation procedures initiated by the “Integration Policies and New Citizens” Forum. The Forum is a participatory democratic body instituted in District 7 of Turin with an institutional resolution dated July 14th, 2011 and currently numbers about 150 members. The Forum costs the public administration nothing, and aims to recruit various subjects to participate in organisational. It includes ordinary citizen as well as ethnic associations and schools, organizations involved in intercultural projects, sports, and citizen action groups. This network, created in this region with a substantial number resident of foreign origin, can be credited with having facilitated a variety of projects also connecting various subjects. A volunteer from the Associazione Islamica delle Alpi, Souad Maddahi, explained how the project started, “If it had not been for the Forum’s insight,” he said, “the idea of creating this initial link between the needs of prisons and the willingness of Islamic associations operating in District 7, this dream might never have come true. The various meetings coordinated by the Forum from March to August, between the associations, the director, and the Commander of the Penitentiary Police, were fundamental for understanding what prisons needed and what we could offer as associations. It was important to find the best method for bringing spiritual assistance to inmates. Moreover, it was necessary to ask the permission from the religious authorities, the imams, a process managed by the Ministry of the Interior. Amidst this bureaucratic red tape, the Forum was also of vital importance in formulating the self-certification of the Imams to be sent to the ministry, as there was no specific form to fill out.”
In his own words, Director Minervini confirms, “The Forum made it possible for us to make contact with the region and the Islamic community there. The road was long, more than anything because of the bureaucratic procedures to obtain the authorization from the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of the Interior. In spite of everything, we managed to anticipate the national agreement between the DAP  and UCOII ; this I can say with a degree of pride.”
The challenge faced by the “Lorusso e Cutugno” correctional facility in Turin
This was a positive experience in which the public administration, in this case Turin’s District 7, played the role of facilitator and capacity builder, providing common ground where the needs of various players in the region could express their needs. In Director Minervini’s words, “The objective is to have our Muslim inmates understand that the prison administration has taken a clear direction and is paying systematic attention to their needs. The message behind this experiment is integration, both in the sense of equality for the inmates themselves, knowing that Muslims will be afforded the same dignity as Catholic inmates or those of other faiths, and to understand that the Islamic communities must also be involved in prisons to prevent radicalisation.”
This experience has become an antidote, counteracting the creation of self-appointed imams in prisons or, in any case, a measure against this occurring. Director Minervini continued to explain that, “It is true that the difficulties endured by Islamic inmates may lead to radicalization. If instead proper attention is paid to the Islamic religion and it is possible to practice it under the supervision of an accredited Iman and not a self-appointed one who improvises in conveying messages that we cannot monitor within the prison, we are able to work against this phenomenon. Moreover, now that we have accredited imams and that they already perform this role in the urban setting, we offer the guarantee to Muslim inmates that they will receive due attention. In this way those who intend to turn towards proselytism and violence remain isolated.
It is the official recognition of the figure of the imam by inmates, like that of imam Said Ait El Jide from the Taiba mosque, that also diminishes the fascination for figures who merely pose as spiritual guides in the prison. As Souad explained, “In any case, imam-inmates are already part of a criminal network. They cannot be respected by other inmates because they themselves are also inmates. Obviously, they may have greater power and charisma than others, but imam Said is well known in the city and has earned a certain degree of respect. Many inmates would say ‘I know him’ and so would respect him, a recognition that has added value for this imam who also offered them moments of enhanced spirituality.”
The substitution of accredited imams, who also enjoy public prestige for the role they play in the urban community where they work, makes it possible to oppose and cause problems to the proliferation of figures within prisons who lead prayers and are expert in art of jihadist preaching.
The process of accrediting the imams initially entailed compiling a list of nine imams, and the statutes of their corresponding associations, to be submitted to the correctional institute administration in Turin, which, through a participatory and orientation programme, met several times with both associations in District 7.
The correctional institute later sent documents regarding four of the imams to the Ministry of the Interior, more specifically the Department for Civil Liberties and Immigration – Central Office of Religious Affairs, while waiting to receive the required documentation for the other five volunteer imams (personal information, necessary residence permits if they were not citizens) from the associations. Having been sent the initial documentation, the ministry requested that a self-certification document for the role of imam be drafted. This request was not made using a standard document formula or format, but thanks to a draft prepared by the District 7 Forum. This very lack of a specific form for the self-certification of imams served to highlight structural and organizational deficits in central government. As the self-certification drafted by the Forum and completed by the respective imams might be missing information needed to obtain government authorization, there was a risk of having to reformulate and resend the material required by the ministry with a consequential bureaucratic delay for the completion of the procedure. Upon completion of the procedure, the Ministry of the Interior finally sent their approval to the Ministry of Justice – Department of Prison Administration, General Headquarters of Inmates and Office V – which in turn drafted a note of authorization to the correctional facility involved. Thanks to all this there are currently three imams officially authorized by the ministry to carry out religious functions in the penitentiary (one imam was refused permission in that he was not listed as resident in the municipality indicated in the documentation).
It took several months for the authorization documents to be moved from one desk to another. An institutional organigram of immigration policies as tortuous as a labyrinth emerged among the corridors of the various ministries that divide, share, and distribute a variety of functions and jurisdictions. In spite of the institution of the Committee for the Coordination and Monitoring of provisions concerning the regulation of immigration and the Technical Task Force , inter-institutional coordination on the topic is not at all easy and does not speed up the implementation of projects and strategies.
There were another fifteen individuals who volunteered as cultural mediators. The authorization procedure in this case was possible through the sole approval of the correctional institutions. It seems that the ministry is not particularly interested in evaluating the potential “risk” of these people. Contradiction arises in the diversity of the two procedures, as if the potential risk were masked behind a spiritual identity. The careful and dutiful attention paid to the accreditation of religious leaders does not apply to the volunteers of both the associations. In this case, it seems that “the clothes make the jihadist.”
Religion as a tool for the radicalization or redemption of inmates
The three imams currently lead prayers every Friday in the prison theatre, equipped with prayer rugs. The Friday prayer meeting, al jum-a, has had two effects. The first emerges from the very words of Imam Said Ait El Jide: “The sermons are in Arabic and in Italian We seek to deal with topics that inmates can relate to, ranging from mercy to forgiveness, preparing them to move forward and overcoming their mistakes. The truth is that the inmate must feel loved in order to avoid radicalization, so he doesn’t become evil.” Using the sermon to touch upon issues that can facilitate the rehabilitation of the inmate is obviously of vital importance in fighting radicalization.
Hence Director Minervini continued by stating that Friday prayers will also be used as a tool to overcome the existing prison sub-culture towards sex offenders and other inmates in protected isolation cell blocks, allowing them to participate in prayers thanks to the approval of the imams who act as buffers for potential mediation between inmates.
This experiment, in addition to having to overcome bureaucratic-administrative obstacles, was obviously a challenge concerning the prison’s organisation, as observed by Simona Massola, youth worker and legal-pedagogic official who has worked in prisons for 12 years. “It is an organizational challenge for the prison because it means a commitment on behalf of our personnel as well,” she said. “But it is also a cultural challenge, even if the prison has been dealing with Muslim inmates for years. We were, however, engaged only in extemporaneous events linked to the celebration of religious holidays. It is a cultural innovation that, above all, people must believe in, because although the prison is used to dealing with inmates of other cultures and religions, certain customs, certain habits are not so easily assimilated. This is an innovation that has brought us inside the prison, where there are consolidated practices and sometimes misunderstandings. It is a challenge beginning now, during this historic period of overwhelming alarmism related to terrorism, widespread confusion and scarce knowledge of the Muslim religion in public opinion. With these assumptions, some comments were made here as well; we bring them prayers and they blow us up in the city.”
In spite of these difficulties, inevitable when introducing new practices, Massola believes that this pilot program is, “an important opportunity that all the administration strongly believes in, one that will also help us understand some cultural variable we don’t know about through the associations that support prayer. However, the result of changing the mentality and approach of our personnel is also helped through training, thanks to courses like the one held in Verbania for civilian and correctional facility personnel, where the topic is precisely how to prevent radicalization in prisons. However, participation in the course should not be a question of choice, but instead mandatory for both correctional facility officers and youth workers.”
What emerges is the importance of ongoing and mandatory training for both youth workers and correctional facility guards in dealing with the intercultural diversities of inmates and to be more sensitive in understanding issues linked to security as well as detecting the potential radicalization of an inmate.The creation of a prejudicial mentality towards the religious variable that constitutes the inmate’s identity must not necessarily become synonymous with fanaticism. The passage is sometimes superficial and it is inevitable that the social rehabilitation of an individual’s identity then becomes useless and ineffective state intervention as in the French case.
This conceptual paradigm started in French prisons, which since 2003 have given rise to a model of indicators involving cases of inmate radicalization. This model was based on religious variables as indicators of the degree of radicalization (or example: beard length, number of prayers, consumption of halal foods, participation in prayer meetings, etc.). It was used until it was decided to suspend it to prevent sanctions, in that the collection of personal data concerning religion is incompatible with the principle of French laity. 
This as if undertaking the practice of Islam or an increase in devotion and one’s own sense of rituality was equivalent to fanaticism or hatred of the Western cultural and social system. 
Following the suspension of this model, later modified and then reintroduced in 2015. It became evident that considering only external religious symbols was not essential for detecting or anticipating radicalization and created only caricatures of potential jihadists. The French approach resulted in a simplification and stigmatization of very devout Muslim prisoners. Moreover, it did not reflect the rehabilitative and educational value of the role of spirituality that an inmate can benefit from by practicing his own religion as well as through spiritual assistance. The fear of Islam that gave rise to the 2004 law prohibiting the wearing of any religious symbols in public places (schools, hospitals, etc.), ranging from the Jewish kippah to the Muslim veil, extended to prisons, creating addition deprivation of spiritual assistance. Even today in France, the plan to counter radicalization in prisons calls for the creation of “Proselytism Prevention Units” (Unité de prévention du prosélytisme » (U2P) inspired by past experience in the Fresnes prison and is aimed at isolating jihadists or potential jihadists. There are obviously difficulties in drawing a line between who is and who might be a jihadist in spite of the new identification model called “aide à l’évaluation du risque/degré de radicalisation islamiste” published by the French DAP in January 2015 , which conveys other elements such as assessment indexes (for example detention records). The statement made by Claire de Galember in her paper àrisks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy: she emphasises that, if the French government does not change its paradigm in which religious variable are a synonymous for violence, there is a strong risk that both inmates and those who are free, should they clash with an anti-Islamist society, will justify violence to affirm their identity.
Director Minervini believes that the French experience is different due to the different numbers involved in this phenomenon and that radicalization can be avoided, beginning with the following assumption; “Another important element is the improvement of living conditions in correctional facilities. The administration of Italian correctional institutes is making significant investments in this field, following sentences passed by European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. It succeeded in avoiding a multi-million euro fine in March 2016 by implementing a programme of interventions aimed at making prison conditions more humane. Improving conditions for inmates, boosting contents, providing treatment facilities for all inmates, even those of Islamic faith, and not restricted to inmates with deportation orders. All this improves behaviour.”
In the Turin penitentiary, it has been understood that religion or spiritual assistance are not variables that develop extremism or anything similar, but rather hatred for a society that has not been capable of accepting them and including them at an economic or social level and resentment towards a State that does not pay them due attention, as if they were children of a lesser god. Depriving them of their identity while in prison and segregating them in specific areas would result not in a reduction of the proselytism phenomenon, but instead increase it.  The power of Islamic indoctrination develops in proportion to the lack of institutional support for religious requests made by inmates. The French DAP was more attentive to the security aspects inside prisons than to an institutional investment for the practice of freedom to worship.
Out of 1,200 inmates, of which approximately 350 are Muslims, the inmates who up to now have participated in Friday prayer services in the Turin penitentiary are about one hundred, a number that has increased during the experiment. Approximately 200 gift parcels were distributed during the month of Ramadan, offered by collections organised by the faithful belonging to the two prayer organizations involved. The packages contained spices, dates, and traditions food and prison personnel discovered that Muslim inmates shared them with their Italian counterparts, a small gesture of solidarity and perhaps not so insignificant in a prison setting, and more specifically, also a sign of the additional conciliatory effect of this practice.
The two associations carry out this activity without benefiting from any contribution or reimbursement, as Hassan El Batal, President of the Association AFAQ emphasised. “We carry out this service free of charge, in spite of our often overwhelming workload and the commitment to manage our associations and mosques, but for us it is a duty to help them and help relieve them from the nightmare of being in prison. The objective is to help these people who have made a mistake and are justly paying the price, to bring them a bit of joy. We are new faces who at a psychological and spiritual level can help them. Seeing volunteers of their own faith, they feel happier and more relaxed. I hope that this project lasts.”
Souad observed, “An inmate told me that he waits all week for Friday so he can listen to the sermon.” And Fatimazahra Tazoukanit said, “The project is wonderful. Both the inmates and the staff were very happy and even the final celebration of Ramadan was very moving.” They confirmed the enthusiasm of feeling involved in a project that brings well-being to all those involved.
The inventiveness of Director Minervini did not stop at allowing ongoing spiritual assistance to the inmates, but as he observed that, “We have also sought to create a bridge with the inmates’ families, thanks to some Muslim women volunteers of both associations who, every Tuesday, make contact with them in the visiting room. A prompt resolution of issues that inmates’ families have to deal with, also has an impact on the well-being of the inmates themselves.” Souad, who performs this service, confirms that, “The director had another important idea. I remember his words – ‘If I deal with the well-being of the families, it means that I will have fewer problems with the inmates.’ Because the inmates then maintain these relations inside the prison. Obviously, it was not an easy job. At the beginning there was the diffidence and shame of the families to be overcome. But thanks above all to the children, who are always more open to those assisting them, it was possible to establish a relationship. Having a common language, being able to express themselves in their mother-tongue and talk about their real emotions also facilitates and increases a sense of privacy. The family feels more protected.” Moreover, added Fatimazahra, “The response of the families was positive and, in addition to questions related to the detention of their family member, they also asked us for practical information about residence permits and to help them as intermediaries with the consulate.”
The cultural mediation initiative with family members corroborates the spiritual assistance service, also creating family well-being. It closes the circle of those involved, giving everyone due attention in striving to offer some relief from the problems related to a prison sentence. It is not merely being a good person or excessive control or negation of religious practice that prevents extremism, but rather rehabilitation programmes and attention to ensure that people feel they are an integral part of the community, hence it would make no sense for them to destroy what they are a part of.
Hassan El Batal emphasised another important aspect to taken into consideration, “The problems we see are that when these inmates have completed their sentences and are released, they come to see us at the mosque and ask for help. For us this is difficult, because we don’t have the resources to help them and their transition back into society.”
Currently there are three imams authorized by the ministry; the institution’s directors are waiting for approval of other imams who have been proposed by the two associations. However, the number of religious leaders is insufficient to meet current needs. In order to meet this needs and avoid controversies that emerged following the stipulation of the protocol agreement between the DAP and the UCOII, due to the fact that the other Islamic associations on the area were excluded, Director Minervini believes it would be worth presenting an account of his experience to the newly-formed Permanent Coordination of the Islamic Cultural Centers in Turin and to extend cooperation to another 14 Islamic prayer halls in the area. This would imply an increase in the number of imams, an incentive to coordinate Turin’s mosques, and the involvement of political actors by giving rise to a concept of circular subsidiarity, a step forward towards best practice in the region.
The tangible results of this experience
In spite of the fact that the experience of the “Lorusso e Cutugno” correctional institution can be considered a positive and significant model in the battle against radicalism, lacking in the mistrust that came from French experiences involving religious variables, with local subjects and Islamic associations, working towards a healthy and responsible rehabilitation programme for inmates. In spite of the importance of having trained staff and having worked with support provided by the public administration, as was emphasized, in the case of this district as of today no protocol agreement has yet been signed.
Director Minervini reiterated that, “What I liked about this experience was that we were realistic, even if we have not signed any protocol. But I am happier with the substance than with the form.” For once, facts are more important than words.
Diletta Berardinelli, Member of the Scientific Committee of “Benvenuti in Italia”
 Editor’s note. The agreement regulates relations between faiths and the state, guaranteeing the application of Art. 8 of the Italian Constitution and acting as preventive control of the implementation of constitutional principles.
 Eight per thousand (Italian: otto per mille) is an Italian law under which Italian taxpayers can choose to whom they wish to devolve a compulsory 0.8% (‘eight per thousand’) from their annual income tax return between an organised religion recognised by the state or, alternatively, to a social assistance scheme run by the Italian state.
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 Editor’s note. In Italy the identification of prison inmates based on their religion is prohibited by the constitution. However, this information is provided by the Ministry of Justice with “transparency forms” provided by the correctional institutes. They are available at the following link: (https://www.giustizia.it/giustizia/it/mg_2_3_2.wp)
 Report “Mosques in correctional facilities” (Ministry of Justice, February 2014)
 Conference organized in Rome, February 18th, 2016, at the Centro Alti Studi per la Difesa by the ICSA Foundation and the Department of Information or Security.
 Interview with D. Berardinelli at the Casa Circondariale “Lorusso – Cutugno” on September 20th 2016.
 Dipartimento dell’amministrazione penitenziaria (Penitentiary Administration Department)
 U.CO.II: Unione delle Comunità Islamiche d’Italia (Union of the Islamic Communities of Italy)
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 Le “radical”, une nouvelle figure de dangerosité carcérale aux contours flous par Claire de Galembert, Critique internationale, Revue comparative de sciences sociales, Numéro 72 – juillet-septembre 2016, trimestriel
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