Prisoners drafted in to fix Rome's potholes

Rebibbia inmates trained to lay asphalt and undertake other maintenance work

A group of about 30 prisoners were among the first to start fixing Rome’s pothole-strewn streets as part of an initiative that authorities in the Italian capital have labelled “I redeem myself for Rome”.

The inmates, from Rebibbia, one of the biggest prisons in Italy, have been trained to lay asphalt and undertake other maintenance work by the motorway operator, Autostrade per l’Italia. It is unclear if they are being paid for the works.

The mayor of Rome, Virginia Raggi, of the populist Five Star Movement, and Francesco Basentini, the chief of the prison administration department, were present as the prisoners began fixing streets in Torre Spaccata, an area to the east of the city, on Tuesday morning.

More prisoners will be brought in to mend roads, which are badly blighted by dangerous potholes and decaying surfaces, in other areas between now and the middle of February.

Authorities initially proposed drafting in the army to do the job but the controversial suggestion was rejected by parliament while the Italian president, Sergio Mattarella, said during his New Year speech that “the role of the armed forces must not be distorted to assigning them to tasks incompatible with their high specialisation”.

The prisoners chosen were considered to be low-risk and serving short sentences.

The poor state of the streets was blamed for the death of a young motorcyclist last May. Soon after, residents began drawing circles around hazardous potholes with green and yellow spray paint in order to highlight their existence, but were told they could face fines for defacing the roads.

Luca Bergamo, Rome’s vice-mayor, said in October that 2,050 miles (3,300km) of roads in the capital had not been properly maintained for years, but that stifling bureaucracy made tender processes for works extremely lengthy. Some deep holes on streets in the centre have been cordoned off for months without being fixed.

The latest scheme follows a similar initiative last year in which prisoners were tasked with cleaning up parks and gardens across the capital. Raggi said such projects helped to rehabilitate inmates.

The mayor, who has led Rome since June 2016, regularly comes under fire from residents for the state of the capital, with other problems including uncollected rubbish and an ailing transport system. Since the start of the year, three buses have spontaneously caught fire due to suspected poor maintenance.

Thousands of Rome residents protested in October against what they called the city’s decay. The problems are continuously chronicled on social media, with people sharing images of piles of rubbish and graffiti.


Angela Giuffrida in Rome

The GuardianTramp

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