Friday, May 06, 2016

A Setback for the Predator State

Debtors Prison


It happened in Italy. Roman Ostriakov was given a six month jail term and a hundred Euro fine for stealing four Euros of food, cheese and sausages, from a Genoa supermarket. Why? He had no money and he had no food. He was famished (not in the sense we like to use that word).

Fortunately the sentence was appealed to the court of appeal where the panel quashed both verdict and sentence.

Judges overturned a theft conviction against Roman Ostriakov after he stole cheese and sausages worth €4.07 (£3; $4.50) from a supermarket.

Mr Ostriakov, a homeless man of Ukrainian background, had taken the food "in the face of the immediate and essential need for nourishment", the court of cassation decided.

Therefore it was not a crime, it said.

For the judges, the "right to survival prevails over property", said an op-ed in La Stampa newspaper (in Italian).

In times of economic hardship, the court of cassation's judgement "reminds everyone that in a civilised country not even the worst of men should starve".

An opinion piece in Corriere Della Sera says statistics suggest 615 people are added to the ranks of the poor in Italy every day - it was "unthinkable that the law should not take note of reality".

It criticised the fact that a case concerning the taking of goods worth under €5 went through three rounds in the courts before being thrown out.

The "historic" ruling is "right and pertinent", said Italiaglobale.it - and derives from a concept that "informed the Western world for centuries - it is called humanity".


Stealing small quantities of food to satisfy a vital need for food did not constitute a crime, the court wrote.

"The condition of the defendant and the circumstances in which the seizure of merchandise took place prove that he took possession of that small amount of food in the face of an immediate and essential need for nourishment, acting therefore in a state of necessity," wrote the court.


Don't hold your breath waiting for the Ostriakov decision to be followed in other jurisdictions. While the defence of necessity is anchored in the Common Law, plenty of the hungry went to the gallows for a loaf of bread. Ask Charles Dickens. Today, of course, inmates have become commercial commodities in the evolving prison/industrial complex.

2 comments:

Pamela Mac Neil said...

You must do an enormous amount of daily news reading Mound, both domestic and international.This posting like most of your postings was an interesting read. The American version similar to this Italian story was the US congress recently cancelling millions of dollars of food stamps. The difference is the Italians realized the inhumanity involved in finding a hungry homeless man guilty of stealing food and set out to change verdict. The American congress who voted to bail out Wall street banks with tax payers money, including those on food stamps, to the tune of 1.2 trillion has no problem punishing the real crooks, those on food stamps.

The Mound of Sound said...

The reason I posted this, Pamela, was the significance of Italy's highest appellate court quashing the verdict and sentence. That, to me, was really neat.

Too often some nations go to the opposite extreme. It's telling that they tend to be considerably more affluent than Italy. Maybe it's the social darwinism that is the philosophical branch of neoliberalism at play. What follows that? For profit, privately operated prisons that transform an offender into a lucrative commodity. Sick? Sure, yet it's happening before our eyes.