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Ethical Problems Related to the Management of Young Immigrant detainees with Psychiatric disorders in Italian Prisons.

  • Autori: Nardello, R; Beji, N
  • Anno di pubblicazione: 2010
  • Tipologia: Capitolo o Saggio (Capitolo o saggio)
  • Parole Chiave: detainees; ethical;
  • OA Link:


The number of foreigners in Italian minor prisons is quite large and it varies in relation to the geographical position. First of all, we must clarify a few points: a minor prison is a judicial system of detention for people between 14 and 21. Before the age of 14, teenagers cannot be put on trial in Italy. In the minor prison of Palermo the 40-50% of the detainees are people coming from Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, but young people from Southern America, Albania and Romany are present too. Albanians and Romanians move to eastern Italy, usually. The immigrant detainees are often illegal refugees or children of a first generation of immigrants who easily deviate from law in order to survive. Most of crimes committed are, drug pushing, robbery, burglary and less commonly, sexual and physical abuse. I am going to introduce the complex system of ethical problems connected to the relation with such young people, especially with those affected by psychiatric problems. Quite often the personal data provided are false from their first name to the family context and their homeland. The educators, who have the first approach with the children, or the psychologist and, sometimes, the doctor who visits the convicts, often ask for the psychiatrist’s intervention. A look at the different populations of detainees may provide useful suggestions. In fact, for what concerns illegal immigrants we must divide them into 2 groups, those who are with an adult and those who travel alone. The ones led by an adult, who usually is their parent or a relative, initially, do not experience the detachment from their country traumatically because of their positive expectations. Subsequently, they are victims of social eradication, due to the impact with the new cultural system and the difficult relation with the host country customs. The person who should be the point of reference loses such a function because he shares the same difficulties and problems. This results in a search for an external help, the child cannot blame the adult’s standpoints, therefore a gap is created and the young person may become a criminal. The most problematic group are the children travelling alone to Italy; they pass through several traumatic experiences not least the lack of affection and the shock of a long travel, of the arrival and the clash with a new culture. The main difficulty is the lack of communication due to the foreign language. The children of a first generation of immigrants have troubles with their social identity, they cannot be helped by their parents who have a too low cultural level, children have to follow an unfamiliar educational system, which seems almost inacceptable. Some parents try to merge the edge some other complain about their extreme effort, moving to another country, to guarantee a better future to their children. Quite often children do not accept such a situation and pretend to be the same as Italian teenagers, even stealing a piece of clothing to get a status symbol. The most common psychiatric disorders in minor prisons are anxiety, depression, adaptation difficulties, post-traumatic stress disorders, personal disorders, psychosis, drug addiction and self-damaging behaviors, which are often a means to express sufferance. Alcohol and drug addiction are quite frequent because western countries are more tolerant both in the control and the opinion upon such a habit. Actually, the sense of failure, the refusal of a disappointing reality and the need for a similar identity to the western teenagers’ may be the real causes of such addictions. Once young immigrants get into prison they experience shocks which, eventually, may turn useful for the acquisition of linguistic skills and for a sense of detachment from negative facts and drug addiction. Detention can be a means of control and of self-awareness in order to be able to plan a better future; in the end, young inmates may get along well with Italian teenagers.