Italy recorded five more deaths on Tuesday from riots in prisons linked to the new coronavirus that have now officially claimed 12 lives in three days.
The Ministry of Justice blamed usage of drug overdose as the cause of deaths that occurred after prisoners broke into medical warehouses.
The claim was impossible to verify immediately through independent sources.
The prisons were ordered to interrupt visits and limit daily releases, as part of a broad government response to a disease that killed 631 people in Italy in just over two weeks.
Some prisoners call for amnesty for a health crisis that has infected more than 10,000 people across the Mediterranean country.
The Ministry of Justice said the situation in all 23 jails hit by riots since Sunday has been recovered.
“The only ongoing situation is in (prison in) Trapani, Sicily, where a large group of detainees arrived on the roof, asking – among other things – to be immediately tested for coronavirus,” the ministry said in a statement.
The ministry said three of Tuesday’s deaths occurred at Rieti’s prison, about 70 kilometers northeast of Rome.
“Initial results suggest that the deaths may have been caused by reckless drug use,” said the ministry of justice.
Two other convicts also died in Modena prison, near the northern city of Bologna. The ministry said nine people died in total.
Modena’s last two deaths are “suspected to have been caused by reckless drug use during the plunder of the infirmative,” said the justice ministry.
The agency said four security officers and a health official who were taken hostage by protesters in Melfi, southern Italy, had been released.
But he said 22 convicts who escaped Foggia prison, off Italy’s southeastern coast, are still on the run.
The prisoners’ rights ombudsman in Italy, Mauro Delma, blamed the riots for overcrowding in prisons and fears for the rapidly spreading disease.
“It appears that the containment measures recommended for all citizens are not acceptable to prisoners who are already experiencing overcrowding,”.
“This scenario creates a combustible situation,” said the ombudsman.
AFP reporters saw a dozen convicts in Milan’s San Vittore prison climb onto the roof of one wing and shout slogans on Monday as police and prison guards watched.
There were similar scenes in several other prisons, when protesters wearing scarves and bandanas on their faces climbed onto rooftops and shouted slogans at television news crews hovering over helicopters.
Relatives gathered outside many of the prisons in question to protest the measures.
“The disturbances that occurred (Tuesday) in the prisons in Venice, Palermo, Pagliarelli, Caltanissetta, Chieti and Larino have ended,” the ministry said.
He added that prisoners in a southern town in Foggia were no longer revolting, but “still refusing to return to their sections”.