Similarities between the Ndrangheta mafia children and the young people who have turned to radicalisation

Giuseppe Spadaro Inter­view with Giu­sep­pe Spa­da­ro, jud­ge, Pre­si­dent of the Juve­ni­le Court of Bolo­gna, For­mer Pre­si­dent of the Lame­zia Ter­me District Court Cri­mi­nal Sec­tion, Ita­ly

JT: Could you tell us about your invol­ve­ment in the fight again­st orga­ni­sed cri­me in Ita­ly? You live under guard; how did it hap­pen?

GS: The que­stion refers to my pre­vious posi­tion. To be frank, I can say that I cut my teeth as Pre­si­dent of the Cri­mi­nal Sec­tion of the Court of Lame­zia Ter­me in Cala­bria.

In that capa­ci­ty, I jud­ged dozens of mafio­si. Obviou­sly, I still remem­ber the ten­se hea­rings well, the fero­cious looks of the god­fa­thers, the very hard cla­shes with the law­yers of the bos­ses, the deter­rent sen­ten­ces which inflic­ted hard blo­ws on the local cosche.

As can be ima­gi­ned, it’s still not easy for me, even from an emo­tio­nal point of view, to recall the days when I beca­me aware of the orga­ni­sed hit that I had been war­ned about. I never knew if it was true, but it seems that eve­ry­thing was rea­dy: fake poli­ce­men would stop me at a chec­k­point on the road from Catan­za­ro to Lame­zia Ter­me and when the dri­ver lowe­red the win­dow, it was plan­ned that… I don’t know, belie­ve me, I don’t even want to think about it… becau­se it was on Christ­mas Eve and my two daughters were also in the armou­red car!

It’s a clo­sed chap­ter, now I am devo­ted with grea­ter momen­tum and con­vic­tion to hel­ping the boys who make mista­kes get back on their feet, as well as try­ing to save the youn­ge­st and defen­ce­less from the vio­len­ce and mistreat­ment of adul­ts who are often so irre­spon­si­ble.

JT: What is the esti­ma­ted ran­ge of action and influen­ce of Ndran­ghe­ta, and what cha­rac­te­ri­ses it?

GS: The Cala­brian Ndran­ghe­ta does not have the fame of Cosa Nostra or of the Camor­ra, but today it has rami­fi­ca­tions in eve­ry Ita­lian region and across the five con­ti­nen­ts. It can boa­st rela­tions with the highe­st-level forei­gn cri­mi­nal and ter­ro­ri­st orga­ni­sa­tions and it is one of the main ones respon­si­ble for the immen­se flood of cocai­ne that has inva­ded Ita­lian cities, and not only in the last few years.

Accor­ding to recent esti­ma­tes, its total tur­no­ver amoun­ts to more than 40 bil­lion dol­lars. An out­co­me that is the result of an extraor­di­na­ry abi­li­ty to adapt to eve­ry mar­ket need, to com­bi­ne tra­di­tion and moder­ni­ty but without era­sing the pre­sen­ce of ancient rituals, perhaps rea­dap­ted, but never com­ple­te­ly disap­pea­red. A sym­bo­lic uni­ver­se that may seem bizar­re or delu­sio­nal, but, in rea­li­ty, it is func­tio­nal for the pre­ser­va­tion of an iden­ti­ty to be affir­med in eve­ry pla­ce and on eve­ry occa­sion.

In perhaps his best-kno­wn book Fra­tel­li di san­gue, my very good col­lea­gue Dr. Grat­te­ri, the cur­rent Pro­se­cu­tor of the Repu­blic of Catan­za­ro, my city, recon­struc­ts and descri­bes a shoc­kin­gly per­va­si­ve and bru­tal cri­mi­nal uni­ver­se from the histo­ri­cal and envi­ron­men­tal point of view in an extraor­di­na­ry way.

Com­pa­red to the other mafias, the Ndran­ghe­ta is pro­ba­bly richer than Cosa Nostra. It is power­ful, inci­si­ve, has inter­na­tio­nal rami­fi­ca­tions, but it doesn’t make head­li­nes. This orga­ni­sa­tion has mana­ged to streng­then itself in secre­cy, without ever fai­ling to com­ply with its own cha­rac­te­ri­stics, rules and values, such as silen­ce and blood ties.

It has been the undi­spu­ted lea­der in cocai­ne traf­fic­king from South Ame­ri­ca to Euro­pe for some deca­des, but, for many, it con­ti­nues to be an archaic ver­sion of the Sici­lian mafia, a typi­cal phe­no­me­non of bac­k­ward­ness, con­fi­ned in Cala­bria in the feu­ding mono­cul­tu­re.

JT: Is the­re a simi­la­ri­ty bet­ween the mafia sons and young jiha­dists?

GS: In the book Rin­ne­ga tuo padre, which I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to pre­sent in Bolo­gna, Gio­van­ni Tizian, an impor­tant Ita­lian jour­na­li­st who was in turn a vic­tim of Ndran­ghe­ta, col­lec­ted sto­ries from ado­le­scen­ts who had joi­ned the inter­na­tio­nal­ly kno­wn pro­ject cal­led Libe­ri di sce­glie­re e allon­ta­na­ti dai boss di Ndran­ghe­ta (free to choo­se and remo­ved from the Ndran­ghe­ta bos­ses), thanks to the inter­ven­tion of the Juve­ni­le Court of Reg­gio Cala­bria.

The edu­ca­tio­nal degra­da­tion to which the­se chil­dren are sub­jec­ted has been under­stood as the tran­smis­sion of mafia values and, the­re­fo­re, trea­ted as a phy­si­cal abu­se in the for­fei­tu­re of paren­tal respon­si­bi­li­ty.

Their sto­ries recall the bio­gra­phies of many young peo­ple I met in my expe­rien­ce as a juve­ni­le magi­stra­te in Cala­bria, who ente­red the lim­bo of the devia­ted honour of the cri­mi­nal orga­ni­sa­tion, young peo­ple who were taught to use wea­pons, to hide cocai­ne, tee­na­gers who are asked to get rid of the ene­my.

The males are rai­sed just like ISIS sol­diers, their days fil­led with brai­n­wa­shing and mili­ta­ry trai­ning, whi­le the fema­les must stay in their pla­ce and pre­pa­re for the role of maids, mothers and ser­van­ts.

Many young peo­ple have esca­ped this night­ma­re thanks to their mothers, “whi­te wido­ws” and sin­gle women becau­se their husbands went to pri­son, just like the sin­gle mothers and wido­ws of ISIS.

Only a few years ago they didn’t tru­st the Sta­te, they didn’t know that the­re was this option, now they see the resul­ts

JT: Can you explain in detail how “de-radi­ca­li­sa­tion” works in the mafia envi­ron­ment that could also be applied to jiha­di­st fami­lies?

GS: We know that, fir­st in Fran­ce and then in England, the so-cal­led de-radi­ca­li­sa­tion was inten­ded as a gui­ded re-edu­ca­tio­nal path within the Isla­mic reli­gious expe­rien­ce, con­duc­ted with the help of an Imam, to under­stand the real roo­ts of this reli­gious belief and allow the reha­bi­li­ta­ting sub­ject to con­sciou­sly shy away from any distor­ted logic and use of the Isla­mic reli­gion and its beha­viou­ral pre­cep­ts. Despi­te the discou­ra­ging resul­ts, the Euro­pean Union’s com­mit­ment in this direc­tion, with de-radi­ca­li­sa­tion pro­gram­mes with an inter­cul­tu­ral and inter­re­li­gious approach, is well kno­wn.

In our coun­try, this solu­tion pro­vi­des food for thought and is also pro­po­sed with regard to the com­pa­ti­bi­li­ty of such a “cate­che­ti­cal” system with the prin­ci­ple of the secu­lar natu­re of the Sta­te, taking into account, howe­ver, that the sub­jec­ts who choo­se to be inclu­ded in the inter­na­tio­nal ter­ro­ri­st struc­tu­re are not always dri­ven by reli­gious belief.

Howe­ver, the simi­la­ri­ty with the mafia can be esta­bli­shed in rela­tion to the cate­go­ries of fami­ly belon­ging of chil­dren and paren­tal respon­si­bi­li­ty and it is the sub­ject of in-depth stu­dy and research. The main refe­ren­ce is still to the abo­ve men­tio­ned Libe­ri di sce­glie­re (Free to choo­se) pro­ject, which finan­ces indi­vi­dual edu­ca­tion cour­ses aimed at minors, in order to pro­vi­de them with a valid alter­na­ti­ve to the social con­text stron­gly cha­rac­te­ri­sed by a mafia cul­tu­re. It inclu­des the acti­va­tion of spe­cia­li­sed teams to pro­vi­de the reci­pien­ts with the neces­sa­ry sup­port to favour life choi­ces which are forei­gn to the cri­mi­nal dyna­mics of the regions of birth.

JT: As far as juve­ni­le cri­me lin­ked to orga­ni­sed cri­me is con­cer­ned, how is the Ita­lian pri­son system?

GS: Con­si­de­ring the spe­cia­li­sa­tion of this impor­tant publi­ca­tion in the pri­son field, I would like to review and fur­ther explo­re the announ­ce­ment made by the Head of the Depart­ment of Juve­ni­le Justi­ce and Com­mu­ni­ty, Dr. Tuc­cil­lo, in her inter­view on the appro­val of the law on the new pri­son system for minors, appro­ved in Octo­ber last year.

The per­spec­ti­ve offe­red by the reform is that of a “child-friend­ly” cri­mi­nal justi­ce, accor­ding to the Bei­jing Rules, the UN Con­ven­tion on the Rights of the Child and the Euro­pean Con­ven­tion on the Exer­ci­se of Children’s Rights.

In fact, for the fir­st time in Ita­ly, the exe­cu­tion of sen­ten­ces again­st con­vic­ted minors (for cri­mes com­mit­ted when they were minors) has been regu­la­ted in an orga­nic man­ner and for some inno­va­ti­ve pro­fi­les, with signi­fi­cant chan­ges being intro­du­ced espe­cial­ly with regard to alter­na­ti­ve mea­su­res to deten­tion and which takes into account the for­ma­tion of their per­so­na­li­ty.

The reco­gni­tion that eve­ry child has a histo­ry of their own that must be asses­sed on a case-by-case basis, that access to com­mu­ni­ty mea­su­res, relea­se on tem­po­ra­ry licen­ce and to outsi­de work must be able to be inde­pen­dent of the type of cri­me, and the extent of the sen­ten­ce is a signi­fi­cant out­co­me that allo­ws the jud­ge to give the chil­dren an extra chan­ce, so that they can chan­ge, and it is our duty to make this pos­si­ble.

I point out that with the use of the term “com­mu­ni­ty” by the legi­sla­tor instead of “alter­na­ti­ve”, the com­mu­ni­ty is direc­tly invol­ved in the reco­ve­ry and inclu­sion pro­ject of the con­vic­ted per­son with the crea­tion of an open and inclu­si­ve enfor­ce­ment system towards minors.

In par­ti­cu­lar, from my point of view, I would like to empha­si­ze the novel­ty of allo­wing resto­ra­ti­ve justi­ce and media­tion paths with the vic­tims of cri­me as one of the key prin­ci­ples of the enti­re regu­la­to­ry fra­mework. Their impor­tan­ce is often over­loo­ked in pre­vious legi­sla­tion, also becau­se of their very dif­fi­cult imple­men­ta­tion, or at most dele­ga­ted to optio­nal acti­vi­ties left to the good­will of juve­ni­le offen­ders.

Ano­ther impor­tant inno­va­tion is the regu­la­tion of inter­views and the pro­tec­tion of affec­ti­vi­ty, which grea­tly widens the pos­si­bi­li­ty of con­tact with the outsi­de world and, in par­ti­cu­lar, with the figu­res which repre­sent a solid and posi­ti­ve refe­ren­ce for the minor, both from the affec­ti­ve and edu­ca­tio­nal point of view, whe­re they exi­st. This enhan­ced pro­tec­tion of the right to affec­ti­vi­ty is pro­vi­ded in prac­ti­ce by the insti­tu­tion of exten­ded visi­ts with fami­ly mem­bers or other per­sons with whom the­re is a signi­fi­cant emo­tio­nal bond within well-equip­ped spa­ces in insti­tu­tions, which allow the pre­pa­ra­tion and con­sump­tion of meals and which repro­du­ce an envi­ron­ment simi­lar to fami­ly life as much as pos­si­ble.

It seems to me that this offers a glimp­se of eve­ry­day fami­ly life in an envi­ron­ment whe­re per­so­nal rela­tion­ships strug­gle to car­ve out spa­ces of nor­ma­li­ty.

JT: What is your opi­nion about the deten­tion of mem­bers of orga­ni­sed cri­me? What role do pri­son sen­ten­ces play?

GS: Well, it may seem stran­ge and exces­si­ve, but I think that even the pri­son system for adul­ts should be reviewed by the Legi­sla­tor and new tools should be pro­vi­ded to the judi­cial over­sight and the pri­son admi­ni­stra­tion.

For exam­ple, if the detai­nee, even tho­se con­vic­ted for serious orga­ni­sed cri­me, has years later car­ried out an inner jour­ney of repen­tan­ce and distan­ce from the under­world, thanks to highly qua­li­fied staff in pri­sons, and has rejec­ted that life model based on erro­neous values, indeed social disva­lues, why not reas­sess his posi­tion perhaps allo­wing him to give evi­den­ce in lega­li­ty pro­jec­ts? Or allow him to under­ta­ke media­tion pro­ce­du­res with the vic­tims of cri­me and their fami­lies? Why not offer their fami­lies social sup­port to pre­vent their chil­dren, bro­thers and wives from con­ti­nuing in the foo­tsteps of ille­ga­li­ty taken by the detai­nee?

Only in this way will the young peo­ple from cer­tain social con­tex­ts, in par­ti­cu­lar the towns of Aspro­mon­te or Cro­to­ne­se or Vibo­ne­se etc., find that they are sim­ple men who reco­gni­se that they have made very serious mista­kes instead of thin­king that the­se are “myths” from which to take as an exam­ple by under­ta­king paths of ille­ga­li­ty and affi­lia­tion to the Ndran­ghe­ta!
Only in this way will the vic­tims of extor­tion or other serious cri­mes see their “exe­cu­tio­ners” in the face but, pre­ci­se­ly, with a dif­fe­rent face, the result of years of impri­son­ment but also the reco­gni­tion of the suf­fe­ring cau­sed to the vic­tims!

Ulti­ma­te­ly, this is the only way that the sen­ten­ce can play an effec­ti­ve role in re-edu­ca­tion and at the same time pri­son will not be a pla­ce to “be sta­tio­ned” wai­ting for the return to free­dom and then, perhaps, indeed often, repeat the cri­mi­nal con­duct with even grea­ter cri­mi­nal depth. And, main­ly, only in this way we can return dif­fe­rent and bet­ter peo­ple to civil socie­ty at the end of their sen­ten­ces!

I belie­ve that offe­ring chan­ces, oppor­tu­ni­ties for effec­ti­ve repen­tan­ce, of re-ela­bo­ra­tion of one’s own illi­cit con­duct, howe­ver serious, are real “life oppor­tu­ni­ties” which I’m not say­ing are for eve­ryo­ne, but pro­ba­bly many Ndran­ghe­ta men would not let them slip away… and cer­tain­ly not for rea­sons of oppor­tu­ni­ty, as often hap­pens for the so-cal­led col­la­bo­ra­tors of justi­ce or repen­tan­ts, who, in the fir­st pha­se of the pre­li­mi­na­ry inve­sti­ga­tions, “col­la­bo­ra­te” when fir­st arre­sted to obtain redu­ced sen­ten­ces becau­se they would be peo­ple who, only after a sub­stan­tial period of depri­va­tion of liber­ty, would not “do” the repen­tan­ts but “would” effec­ti­ve­ly repent!

Giu­sep­pe Spa­da­ro took offi­ce as pre­si­dent of the Juve­ni­le Court of Emi­lia-Roma­gna, in Bolo­gna, in Sep­tem­ber 2013. He ente­red the judi­cia­ry in 1990, was a juve­ni­le jud­ge in Catan­za­ro – his nati­ve city – for nine years. From July 2007 was pre­si­dent of the Lame­zia Ter­me court cri­mi­nal sec­tion, in Cala­bria. In this lat­ter capa­ci­ty, he recei­ved threa­ts, alle­ged­ly per­pe­tra­ted by mem­bers of the Ndran­ghe­ta mafia. Jud­ge Spa­da­ro is descri­bed as very sen­si­ti­ve towards fami­ly law and juve­ni­le justi­ce issues.

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