Ethics Quiz: Italy’s New Strategy To Fight The Mafia


Anyone who has seen “The Godfather” I or II has a sense of the mafia culture in Italy. That wasn’t fiction; indeed, it was probably understated, and is strong as ever. Now legislators are experimenting with a radical new approach to fighting organized crime in the country, a deep-rooted pathology that has persisted for centuries.The strategy is draconian: separating children from their mob families and moving them to a different part of Italy to end a generational cycle of crime. Families are the heart of organized crime: the “Godfather” films’ portrayal was absolutely accurate on that score.

Italian magistrate Roberto Di Bella began taking children away from their criminal families after seeing children as young as 11 or 12 serving as lookouts during murders, participating in drug deals and mob strategy sessions, and learning how to shoot an assault rifle. “Sons follow their fathers,” he told New York Times reporter Gaia Piani Giani. “The state can’t allow that children are educated to be criminals.”

Di Bella began taking children away from parents convicted of mob ties five years ago,  separating about 40 boys and girls, ages 12 to 16, from their families. Sometimes the children’s mothers accompany them to the new locales. The rest of the embryonic mafiosi  go into foster care.Di Bella says that none of the children he has taken away from their families have committed a crime since, and impressed with his results,  Italy recently passed statutes that legalize the strategy as a way to destroy crime families.

Of course the program is controversial.  Di Bella, however, believes that it is a utilitarian necessity. He told the Times that mafia fathers have written to him to thank him for for giving their children a chance at a normal life, their children have told him they feel liberated, and mothers ask if he will do it for their children.

Your Ethics Alarms Italian Ethics Quiz of the Day:

Is the policy of removing children from organized crime families ethical?

I’m going to wait a bit to weigh in, but a couple of ethics questions frame the issue:

1. Is the family sacrosanct? Is any instance of the government removing a child ethical?

2. If we concede that the government can and should remove a child who is being neglected and whose safety is at risk, how is Di Bella’s policy different?

3. If we know, and we should, that cultures are powerful and their influence pervasive, doesn’t it follow that destroying toxic cultures is reasonable and in the best interest of society?

4. Which ethical system fits this problem best?

  • Is it Reciprocity: “I would never want the government to take my child away from me”?
  • Is it Absolutism: “No government should ever break up a family, as long as the children are being fed, housed and cared for”?
  • Italy has opted for Utilitarianism. Its government believes, in this case, that solving a persistent law enforcement problem justifies a brutal means.


Facts: New York Times


Filed under Childhood and children, Family, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement

34 responses to “Ethics Quiz: Italy’s New Strategy To Fight The Mafia

  1. This intervention by government will simply enable other families, whom the government does not interfere with, to succeed in crime. “Utilitarianism” by the offices of governance is simply a shitty rationalization for tyranny.

  2. I don’t think it is just “utilitarianism”. But I think t needs to be seen as “war ethics” or “war utilitarianism”. I’m convinced that certain societal problems become so complex and so destructive to the level that those who partake have created a pseudo-state in rebellion against the parent nation. The level of which rises above mere crime or mere policy enforcement. That succeeding generations are brought up in the pseudo-state which will continue the rebellion. In such a case “war utilitarianism” becomes more justifiable as a means to evaluate what must be done.

    But it places an incredible burden or responsibility of the remainder of the non-rebelling nation to know when it is time to stop and also a burden not to start including targeted groups based on less dire needs.

  3. “2. If we concede that the government can and should remove a child who is being neglected and whose safety is at risk, how is Di Bella’s policy different?”

    It seems likely that Italy already has provisions to do just this. For a judge to slide that over to a hard rule that if your parent is a (group) then you are per se at risk is to cease to be a judge. If a kid is participating in drug deals, then “at risk” should be an easy case to make.

    The opposite utilitarian side of this is that nobody – no judge and no government – can be trusted to make this sort of decision in a deliberate, even-handed way. The decision has to be made hard, because if it’s easy then it will inevitably end up being made for reasons other than the good of the child.

    • dragin_dragon

      Looks like it already is. This judge appears to be removing the kids in order to preserve a societal culture. It may, tangentially be good for the kid, as well, but that’s not the original intent. Unethical. Who’s to say the protected culture is any better than the one from which the kid is being removed? Why, the judge, of course.

      I am reminded of several cases a few years back, in which kids were adopted by upper- or middle-class white families…the kids were native American and black, as well as Cuban. The judges involved all felt that iw was better for the child to be raised in the alcoholic, shattered families they came from, set aside the (legal) adoption and returned the kids to the culturally correct environments. As far as I know, no studies have been conducted to determine how the kids fared. I could make a couple of guesses, but that’s all they would be…guesses.

  4. Steve-O-in-NJ

    If the children are actively participating in criminal activity then the parents have failed in their duty as parents to teach right from wrong. It is parents’ duty to teach children to become productive members of society, not problems for society. That said, there needs to be a very high standard of proof to justify this extreme measure, as in the children must have participated in an overt criminal act at the parents’ direction.

  5. Other Bill

    We take children away from drug addled parents all the time. This is not significantly different.

    • Other Bill

      I hope the Italian judge survives. I doubt he will.

      • I was thinking the same thing.

        • He has survived for 5 years

          How? Is the Mob not that bad? Is the problem indeed overstated? Is the Mob inept?

          His survival indicates something else is in play here.

          1. Either the Mob is a murderous group in rebellion to civil authority, in which case the Judge should have been killed, or

          2. The Mob is just not that big a threat (if a judge took MY child for a group identity, I would be hard pressed NOT to help him/her “assume room temperature.”) and the Judge is overly harsh and a tyrant.

          Is there middle ground? Did I miss something?

    • wyogranny

      It is different. Taking children away from their families because of what their family values are is a slippery slope. We have seen/are seeing what government/society can do when it becomes corrupted by idilogy. Today it’s the Mafia tomorrow it might be Christians, or gay people, or people who keep guns in their house.

      • Very much slippery slope which is why I think the only fair ethics analysis for this topic would lead to a rule that if applied would only see government action like this in extremely rare situations across the globe AND through time.

        It would seem that mafia culture, existing for *centuries* and even before as it is essentially the remnant culture of the old feudal systems that went underground when modernity slowly grew to the forefront, might possibly be one of those instances.

        • Other Bill

          I don’t think we need to go that far, Tex. Look at the parents’ conduct. If they’re blowing people away with blunderbusses and posting their kids as lookouts, intervention is based on conduct and (wg) not values. No slope. No slip. Chronic drub abusers. Chronic violent criminals? Same same.

          • I don’t think it’s that simple. As I read the article, it sounded to me like Italy was taking steps aimed at ANY relation to a family based on *mere* association with Mafia activity, not just related to the most violent crimes.

            That’s significantly more than just Chronic violent criminals.

            It’s taking a direct *attack* approach at the culture itself.

            Which I’m still working out how to effectively limit it, if it is indeed ethical. Which I’m not fully convinced of either.

    • Wayne

      Agreed, the foster care system is invoked with this all the time. Who wants young kids to be living with meth heads or other felons. Child Protective Services removes kids from these lunkhead parents and first tries to place them with more stable relatives. I don’t know how that would work out with the mafiosos though.

  6. Neil A. Dorr


    Can you later post the answer as a separate article (or update to this one) so as not to force some readers to scroll through an endless comment section?

  7. Glenn Logan

    Wow, this is an interesting and troubling question. Let’s try some analysis:

    Clarify: What must be decided is whether or not it is good policy to take children from families which:

    are able to provide for them;
    are their natural parents;
    are teaching these children to ignore the law of society and act according to a code deemed criminal by that society.

    Without going into an itemized clarification/evaluation/decision process, I think that the behavior of the Mafia families described in your commentary are tantamount to child abuse. They are raising them to be criminal actors, and instilling in them a set of values inimical to society and accepting of violent or murderous behavior as a valid means of conflict resolution, to name the very worst possible result of this instruction.

    Therefore, I think removing the child from that system is ethical and, in fact, almost compulsory. I wouldn’t be as comfortable doing that wholesale without evidence of this indoctrination in each individual case, though. I’m less enamored of the idea of simply removing children from families with convicted members, but I could probably be convinced that this is sufficient cause. At least I’m willing to keep an open mind.

    I also acknowledge the trauma involved here, and it’s disturbing, but not as disturbing as the alternative.

  8. Paul Compton

    Is it possible for something to be unethical, or at least ethically dubious, but still be the right thing to do?

    Are good intentions enough?

    Does the Seven Generations Principle trump ethics? Or is it by definition a high level ethical decision?

    Is it ethical to always/ever put the needs of the society above the needs of the individual? Or is it ethical to always/ever put the needs of the individual above the needs of the society?

    I think the above is pretty much a summary of the thoughts that underpin every Ethics Alarms question.

    For myself, I consider that the judge is acting, in this case, for the long term good of the society and also in the long term good of the child, whether either or both are intended, and so I’m prepared to say get on with it. Will it invariably work out for good, not a chance. There will undoubtedly be negative outcomes and he may well be roundly condemned by history, but doing nothing means that there are almost certainly going to be far more negative outcomes.

    I’m not resorting to #22 here but I do think we sometimes have to give it our best ethical shot and live with the consequences.

    • To your first I’d say no. It can’t be the right thing to do and also unethical.

      This would be a zugswang situation.

      And why I say it can only be viewed as a kind of “war utilitarianism” and therefore only applicable if and when it seems a subset of the community is in a type of open and violent rebellion against the greater community for a good deal of time such as multiple generations.

      • Such an act can only be taken if the greater community has pre-committed to stopping the conduct at the effected generation. That is to say, the children of families forcibly removed must be given a chance to make their own families independently of state intervention and given a chance then, if they commit crimes to be viewed yet again as single citizens violating laws and not as members of an insurrectionist group.

        Hence this is why this is so touchy that I don’t know how often it can be seen to apply. Thin ice to walk on when we expect the majority to pre-commit to relinquish power; especially this kind of power.

        • And if the belief is that families are sacrosanct one must actually define why they are. And it if a component of that sanctity has anything to do with families being uniquely suited to producing healthy and functioning adults, then any solution that breaks up families must have an extremely family-like quality. That is to say, pulling children out of families only to insert them into state run institutions won’t cut it. Leaving essentially a foster system… in which case now you tread on another area of thin ice, as I’m not too satisfied with the quality of foster care either.

          • Maybe, just maybe, if we get enough judges together to recognize what a threat to THEIR society Sharia law is, we can realize, within several generations’ time, an extinction (or near extinction) of at least one aspect or manifestation of Islam that is inherently incompatible with, and hostile to, superior ethics and justice for children and women and “infidels.”

  9. Spartan

    I used to work as a guardian ad litem until I had to stop because I thought I would go insane. The truth is that there are millions of children that live in households with physical abuse, mental abuse, substance abuse, crime, negligence, poverty, and just bad parenting. Added to this is the fact that there are 600,000 kids in foster care right now waiting for adoption. The Italian example above is interesting as an ethical exercise, but I really don’t think we have a slippery slope problem (at least here in the US) because the fact is that we have far too many kids waiting for better homes than we have people willing to take them in. I think “daddy is a crime boss” is pretty low on the reassignment orders, especially given that Americans are mesmerized by organized crime. “Mob Wives” was a big reality TV show hit.

    • Other Bill

      Nice comment, Sparty. Personal experience always helpful. I had a client, herself a recovering addict, who had to spend most of her time trying to get her niece away from her drug addicted sister. The whole thing is just brutal. That said, I don’t think the situation with the mafia in Italy is any less severe and worthy of some sort of effort.

  10. (Please bear with me, I promise I have a direction and a point)

    Since no one else made the correlation (or wants to go there)…

    As an intellectual exercise, here are some quotes from the above:

    “The state can’t allow that children are educated to be criminals.”

    “…If we know, and we should, that cultures are powerful and their influence pervasive, doesn’t it follow that destroying toxic cultures is reasonable and in the best interest of society?”

    “…If the children are actively participating in criminal activity then the parents have failed in their duty as parents to teach right from wrong. It is parents’ duty to teach children to become productive members of society, not problems for society. ”

    “…certain societal problems become so complex and so destructive to the level that those who partake have created a pseudo-state in rebellion against the parent nation.”

    “…We take children away from drug addled parents all the time. This is not significantly different.”

    Let me start by stating that I believe this is unethical behavior from the git-go. Families are the foundation of any society, and attempt to destroy that bonding create monsters on all sides: society, for doing such a thing, parents, who will kill for their children, and the children themselves, who tend to become psychopathic, with little empathy for anyone.

    However, if you accept the above rationalizations, you must also accept that we have a similar situation within the USA.

    EVERY point above also applies American inner city ghettos, and the political treatment of minorities that perpetuate crime and poverty.

    In order of quotation:

    “…children are educated to be criminals” Check. Teaching that laws do not matter if your skin is a certain color, or that other skin colors owe you something as a class has no other result than lawless behavior.

    “…toxic culture…” Check. The welfare system and race politics have made BLM and La Raza possible. Pop culture is certainly toxic, and encourages criminal behavior in general.

    “…parents have failed in their duty as parents…” Check. Absent ‘baby daddies,’ welfare incentives for multiple children, a casual hook up culture, and abortion on request (cheapening human life) have combined to reduce ‘parenting’ to the base “able to reproduce” level.

    “…those who partake have created a pseudo-state in rebellion against the parent nation.” Check. What else do you call the ‘Dial-a-Riot’ behavior of recent years? Where do these riots occur? Who suffers?

    “…We take children away from drug addled parents all the time. This is not significantly different.” Check. This happens mostly in what areas of the nation? Does that case by case decision apply to a class in general?

    If you think the Italian plan is a good one, don’t you have to endorse removal of inner city minority children as well?

    I’ll let you dwell on the smoke that one generates. (I hear the “racist” dog whistles already. Remember I am against this before you flame)

    As an aside, could this not also be twisted into “the children of angry leftists,” or “gun culture conservatives,” or “illegal immigrants?” How about “Radical Muslims” (as has already been mentioned in these comments)? “Gay couples?” “The Poor in general?”

    This is chilling. This is unethical. This is signature significance of a society in rot.

    Careful what you root for.

    • I am glad you went through all that, slickwilly! You “got” me – I mean, as in, “Gotcha!” I have been advocating for years that the way to stop kids from killing kids in those shitholes of urban decay is to GET THEM THE HELL OUT OF THERE – FAR AWAY. De-populate, disperse, re-situate, reform, and re-settle them. Make the shitholes “no children allowed zones.” Hollow them out, demographically. Disperse the obviously negatively synergized masses. Slickwilly, you are absolutely correct: If the Italian plan to break the Mafia crime family history-cycle is a good one, then something similar to help the desperate inner-city people in this was-country must be good, too.

      So, I acknowledge my hypocrisy in opposing the Italian scheme, and retract my characterization of it as “a shitty rationalization for tyranny.” There are tyrannies of circumstances which a superior “tyranny” MUST overcome.

      Now, I am not for the breaking-up of a family (or a community) that acknowledges its dysfunctions and truly shows diligent effort (including constant, long-term accountability in submission to exemplary and truly effectual authority) AND POSITIVE RESULTS while striving to break those dysfunctions. But there is an epidemic of family self-destruction in the urban centers that the rest of society MUST have sufficient resources to intervene in and cure. Sometimes I think something like a military draft of idle youth – literally, dragging urchins right off the street, kidnapping them to save their young souls, as from a death cult – followed immediately by a long, arduous, years-long boot camp-like environment of order, instruction, discipline, and yes, deprivations and hardships that mean something, motivate the deprived, in a remote and isolated location, with only the most occasional opportunities for brief, heavily supervised forays into the larger society and very high, exacting standards for each individual to qualify for “entry” permanently into the larger society – would go a long way to busting the cycle of urban family dysfunction. TIME FOR A NEW “MOON-SHOT.”

      What better project could the ascendant Left in this was-country undertake? Call it the Human Capital Reclamation, Recovery, and Revitalization Program. Draft Task Forces of Progressives, and mobilize them to kidnap, direct, reform, and re-settle the poor little bastards into improved, more productive tools of the state, into a New Public, a New Urban Order. Mandatory sterilization for birth control assurance might be in order…Taking on the kids would be the first phase. The second phase would be the reform of the “older children” (the urban parental assholes, aka “adults”).

      God – imagine the documentaries, book deals, movie deals, Nobel Peace Prizes, monuments to Great Trans Women, etc. that would come out of a pogr- er, PROgram like THAT! And opportunities for lawyers! A FUCKING BONANZA! With lessons learned and successes achieved, the Program could shift to pockets of dysfunction in other areas – suburbs, exurbs, trailer parks, rural enclaves, gun cults, church cults…from “No Child Left Behind” failure, to “No At-Risk Child’s Behind Left Un-Fucked-With” SUCCESS!

      Ethics? I await other commenters. I don’t care about ethics; I just want RESULTS. Enough of this urban shitholery. Let’s just get it done, dammit!

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