Italy, Coronavirus, San Vittore prison
(Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
  • Italy on Sunday put the northern region of Lombardy and 14 neighbouring provinces at the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak on lockdown.

  • The restrictions impacted prisoners because it limited or suspended their ability to have family visits.

  • Tension over this move, combined with the knowledge that they are closely packed and vulnerable to viruses like COVID-19, caused riots among inmates across the nation.

  • Reports emerged of dozens of inmates escaping from custody while others set fire and clambered onto roofs to hang a sign saying "Indulto" or pardon in Italian.

  • Six prisoners also broke into an infirmary where they overdosed on meth and died.

  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

At least 50 inmates escaped from an Italian prison between Sunday and Monday as tension over sweeping coronavirus restrictions triggered riots in 27 jails across the country.

During the commotion, another six inmates also died of a methadone overdose, the Associated Press reported.

The COVID-19 virus erupted in Wuhan, China, but Italy has been the hardest hit nation outside Asia. On Monday, the number of infections crossed 9,000 and another 463 people were reported dead.

The government responded by cracking down in hopes of controlling the spread of the illness. On Monday, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte put the entire country on lockdown. Schools, museums, theaters, and swimming pools throughout the country are shut, and weddings and funerals have been suspended. Large public events have also been canceled, entire towns have been sealed off, and Italy's popular tourist destinations are deserted.

'You can't leave, and you're in a place where infectious diseases can spread critically'

Italy's prisons were overrun by protests when news emerged that family visits were suspended or limited, according to AP. Prisoners were feeling the stress of being packed into small, overcrowded spaces which put them at heightened risk, said Alessio Scandurra, of the Antigone Association, which lobbies for prisoner rights.

"In prisons in general, there's a lot of anxiety," he told AP. "You can't leave, and you're in a place where infectious diseases can spread critically. Obviously inmates know this very well."

In Modena, prisoners on Sunday took two guards hostage before swiping keys and trying to scale a fence to escape. They were thwarted by riot police, but had done enough damage to the prison itself that other inmates had to be relocated to temporary facilities, the Daily Beast reported.

It was also in Modena that six prisoners gained access to the prison infirmary where they overdosed on meth, which Donato Capece, secretary-general of the penitentiary police union, told AP is used to treat opioid dependence.

Inmates at a Pavia jail set mattresses ablaze, forcing a part of the building to be evacuated, and others at Milan's San Vittore prison attacked guards and climbed onto the roof in response to the city's closure. Perched there, a group held up a painted sheet reading "Indulto," which in Italian means pardon, AP reported.

Meanwhile, inmates at Rome-based Regina Coeli prison were heard shouting and clanging objects on the cell bars, the Daily Beast said. Outside, inmates' relatives protested after learning that only one person could go in to visit each person in jail, AP reported.

A group also set fire to the city's Rebibbia prison, allowing about 30 inmates to flee. Sirens pierced the air and helicopters hovered over the area, the Daily Beast said, adding that the prisoners have since been taken back into custody. There, too, relatives and prisoner advocates took to the streets and hung a banner declaring, "Free them all" on a police barricade.

Capece, who said that prisoners also ran away from a jail in Foggia, blames the Italian government for turning its back on the prison system.

"The administration is completely absent," he told AP. "They have left the penitentiary police in jeopardy."

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