The Prison SMART Project started in Italy in 2003 in the Melfi and Potenza Prison. In 2004-2005 the Project has been developed also in San Vittore Prison in Milan, in cooperation with the Ser.T. of Milan sanitary district, under the supervision of Dr. Dario Foà, director of the “Servizio Area Penale e Carceri ASL” of Milan.
In 2006 Prison SMART starts also in the women’s dept. of the Opera Prison.*
Since 2007, Prison SMART has had an ongoing collaboration in the Milano-Bollate Prison with the multidisciplinary team of Prof. Paolo Giulini, a clinical criminologist, responsible for the Unit of intensive treatment of sex offenders, teacher at Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore and President of CIPM (Italian Centre to promote Mediation).
The project specifically refers to sex offenders and psychiatric operators within the prison. Some members of the team took part to the project, attending the intensive course for Operators at the CIPM head quarter, so that Prison SMART became officially part of the rehab therapy used by the medical staff of the Treatment Unity. Every year 20/30 inmates, selected by the Treatment Unity, take part to the intensive course and then to the weekly follows up for up to a year.**
The results were presented by Conference speaker Dr. Giorgio Minneci at the Congrès International Francophone sur l’Agression Sexuelle (the International Congress on Sexual Crimes) held in Paris in 2007. The most noticeable result was the increasing level of integration between sexual offenders taking part to the Project and common convicts.
In 2010 was published “Buttare la chiave?” (“Throwing away the key?”) for the types of Cortina Editore. One of the sections of this book refers specifically to the result of the Prison SMART Project.
In 2014 at the Casa di Reclusione Due Palazzi di Padova, the Project involved around 100 inmates, whose activities has been part of a research about anxiety, in cooperation with Università degli Studi di Padova.
Since 2003 some 700 hundreds people (between convicts and prison staff) have been involved in the Prison SMART Project.
Giorgio Minneci has dedicated the last 10 years to promote the Project: he’s an acknowledged teacher for Prison SMART in Europe, besides being the project coordinator for Italy.
He believes that jail time should not be a punishment, but a chance for rehabilitation; he strongly believes that jail should become a place to grow, to take responsibility and finally, to heal.
“I’ve seen a jail where people change.
I’ve seen a jail where peace is possible.
It’s my experience. It’s my hope. It’s my prayer.”
*Project Prison Smart and denial of the crime
As far as my experience is concerned, the general tendency of the convicts is to take distances from the crime they have committed. A variety of psychological tricks are adopted, according to the subject’s personality, to create this distance. Denial is a chance. To deny the committed crime, means claiming to be innocent, to be a victim of iniquity. Sometimes they blame the guilt on someone else, even on the victim. There is also a chance they disconnect themselves from the crime, claiming “It wasn’t me” or “I don’t remember committing this crime”.
In different courses I got to deal with convicted putting in place these processes of estrangement from the crime.
In order to simplify I will share the evidence of a female convict arrested for killing her father in front of her mother. She revealed to me, crying, that at the end of the course, for the first time in her life, she managed to talk about her crime with her mother. She also admitted that she still loved her father, even if the homicide was due to a series of abuses she had suffered.
“I hadn’t been able to talk to my mum about my crime for seven years”
The mood of mutual acceptance gradually arising during the course give participants the chance to get in touch with their crime, sometimes up to the point of taking responsibility for it. Moreover, thanks to the breathing and meditation techniques, they start having a new relationship with their present: it’s a long path, requiring patience and a continuous commitment.
**Prison SMART Project and prejudice against sex offenders
After a few successful courses in the prison of Milano-Bollate, the challenge was to offer prisoners a course aimed to integrate sex offenders and other prisoners. It is a fact that in most Italian prisons, sex offenders are marginalized by other inmates. The course took part in 2008, with 5 sex offenders and 5 “non sex-offenders” convicted. During the first sessions, there were obvious difficulties : they did not talk, they didn’t even want to sit next to each other. One inmate said: “I won’t do the course if I have to sit next to him”. I do not know what happened during the meditations in that course, I only know that by the end of the course, they were looking each other in the eyes, they laughed and they had started to communicate.