By NICOLE WINFIELD, Associated Press
ROME (AP) — A serial killer who failed to return to prison after a two-day, good-behavior pass was recaptured Friday in France, Italy's justice minister said, ending an embarrassing episode that had raised questions about the government's new efforts to reduce prison overcrowding.
Annamaria Cancellieri announced the news Friday just hours after she had briefed Parliament on the escape of Bartolomeo Gagliano, who has a lengthy rap sheet and was serving a nine-year sentence for theft when he went missing earlier this week.
A justice ministry official said Gagliano was captured in Menton, France, just across the border from Italy on the Mediterranean coast. He had been due back at Genoa's Marassi prison on Dec. 17 after going to visit his elderly mother in nearby Savona.
Savona is about 125 kilometers (75 miles) from Menton along the coast.
At some point between Savona and Genoa, Gagliano allegedly carried out a carjacking and then drove off in the car, launching an international manhunt as questions swirled about how prison officials could have let out a serial killer with known psychiatric problems.
On Friday, Cancellieri disputed prison officials' claims that they didn't know of Gagliano's criminal or psychiatric background, saying they had his full record. The record, which started in 1981, includes convictions for multiple homicides, kidnapping, sexual violence and other crimes that he served time for in psychiatric hospitals.
Marassi's prison director, Salvatore Mazzeo, has said that as far as the prison was concerned, Gagliano was merely a thief serving time for a 2006 robbery conviction and was due to be released in 2015.
Cancellieri noted prison records said he had been well-behaved and his recent psychiatric evaluations found him to be lucid, calm and collaborative.
Cancellieri didn't question the legitimacy of the decision to let him out, saying a full inquiry would shed light. But she defended the practice of granting such good-behavior passes in general as necessary to begin reintegrating inmates due for release back into society. She insisted it was generally safe, citing a 1 percent no-return rate over the past few years.
Gagliano's release sparked an outcry in Italy and raised questions about new proposals approved by the government this week to ease prison overcrowding, including having drug addicts serve time in treatment centers and making greater use of electronic monitoring bracelets.
The Senate president, Piero Grasso, has warned that the escape might interfere with the recent proposals, which were undertaken after the European Court of Human Rights in January ruled that Italy's prison conditions violated the rights of inmates. The court ordered Italy to remedy the situation within the year.
Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.