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To End Cycle Of Crime, Italian Judge Breaks Up Big-Time Mafia Families

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Salvatore Coluccio, alleged head of Calabrian mafia crime group 'Ndrangheta, is one of many mafiosi children born into the family business. He's seen being escorted by police special forces following his 2009 arrest.

The city of Reggio Calabria in southern Italy is home of one of the most powerful criminal syndicates in the world.

'Ndrangheta, as it's known, is a brutal mob funded largely by drug trafficking and it's been tied to corrupt local officials. For the past four years, Judge Roberto Di Bella has taken a new approach to try to deplete the ranks of the group.

Judge Di Bella presides over juvenile court and he's is trying to prevent the children of 'Ngrangehta members from joining the family business.

He spoke to Weekend Edition host Rachel Martin with help from translator Jane Chila.

Di Bella says children who appear before his court who've gotten involved in crimes like homicide and drug problems are often around 12 to 15 years old. In some cases, he's removed some of these kids from their homes and placed them with other families or in youth facilities.

Interview Highlights

On how his program works and whether he gets resistance from their families

In many cases, the minors are sent to communities or volunteer families, and the mothers understand that their children are better off. ... and when the mothers understand, they accept that these decisions of the judges and many times, the mothers actually beg the judges to help their children, to take them away.

On the families who are opening their doors to, in some cases, convicted criminals

They usually contact families that have already been prepared with the anti-mafia people and so they know exactly how to handle the situation. ... Usually it's temporary. They leave families when the minors reach their 18th year.

On whether these young adults then return to the criminal syndicates

There have been no cases of these children going back to the criminal life. And in many cases they also help them find a job and the mothers also want to go where their children are located because of course they go to different places.

On whether he's been threatened by the mafia organization in reaction to what he's doing

I cannot say exactly if I've been menaced, but many of these fathers are now in prison.

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