Italian inmates die during protest over coronavirus measures

Italian penitentiary police said Monday that six inmates protesting virus containment measures at a northern Italian lockup have died after they broke into the infirmary and overdosed on methadone.

Inmates stage a protest against new rules to cope with coronavirus emergency, atop the roof of the San Vittore prison in Milan, Italy, Monday, March 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

Inmates stage a protest against new rules to cope with coronavirus emergency, atop the roof of the San Vittore prison in Milan, Italy, Monday, March 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

The protest Sunday in Modena was among the first of more than two dozen riots at Italy’s overcrowded lockups that grew Monday. Human rights advocates have been warning that increasing tensions over fears of coronavirus were hitting inmates particularly hard, especially after restrictions were imposed on family visits to prevent transmissions.

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Inmates stand by a banner reading in Italian Pardon as they stage a protest against new rules to cope with coronavirus emergency, including the suspension of relatives' visits, on the roof of the San Vittore prison in Milan, Italy, Monday, March 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

Inmates stand by a banner reading in Italian Pardon as they stage a protest against new rules to cope with coronavirus emergency, including the suspension of relatives' visits, on the roof of the San Vittore prison in Milan, Italy, Monday, March 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

On Monday, inmates climbed onto the roof of the San Vittore prison in Milan and held up a painted sheet reading “Indulto,” Italian for pardon.

Donato Capece, secretary general of the penitentiary police union, accused the government of abandoning the prison system, refusing to provide sufficient measures to prevent the spread of the virus among inmates and leaving guards on their own to deal with prisoners who could now only speak to relatives by phone or Skype.

“The administration is completely absent,” he told The Associated Press. “They have left the penitentiary police in jeopardy.”

Inmates stage a protest against new rules to cope with coronavirus emergency, at the San Vittore prison in Milan, Italy, Monday, March 9, 2020. Italy took a page from China's playbook Sunday, attempting to lock down 16 million people — more than a quarter of its population — for nearly a month to halt the relentless march of the new coronavirus across Europe. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

Inmates stage a protest against new rules to cope with coronavirus emergency, at the San Vittore prison in Milan, Italy, Monday, March 9, 2020. Italy took a page from China's playbook Sunday, attempting to lock down 16 million people — more than a quarter of its population — for nearly a month to halt the relentless march of the new coronavirus across Europe. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

He confirmed six inmates at the Modena prison had died from overdoses. He ticked off the more than two dozen prisons where protests were underway, including in Foggia where some prisoners had escaped.

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Italy’s overburdened court system has ground to a near halt because of virus containment measures, increasing tensions among prisoners already forced to endure long delays in justice.