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Italy PM Letta wins confidence vote on prison overcrowding bill

Italy's Prime Minister Enrico Letta holds a news conference at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels January 29, 2014.REUTERS/Laurent D
Italy's Prime Minister Enrico Letta holds a news conference at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels January 29, 2014.REUTERS/Laurent D

ROME (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta won a confidence vote on Tuesday which he had called to hurry a law through parliament aimed at reducing prison overcrowding.

The lower house voted 347 to 200 to back the government's decree, which must now be passed by the Senate to become law.

The confidence vote, on which the survival of the government was staked, was used to eliminate time-consuming voting on proposed amendments.

The decree, which came into effect in December but most be approved by parliament by February 21 to become permanent, extends the use of electronic tagging and assigns more drug addicts to treatment centers to reduce the number of inmates.

Italian jails are the most crowded in the European Union, with around 62,000 detainees held in jails built for fewer than 48,000, according to official data.

Some prisons have more than 250 percent of the number of inmates they were built for, according to prison rights group Antigone, which welcomed the decree.

The opposition 5-Star Movement and Northern League groups opposed the measure, saying it would put "assassins and mobsters" back on the streets, an accusation the government denies.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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