To Save Kids From 'Ndrangheta Mafia, Italian Judge Roberto Di Bella Breaks Up Families Roberto Di Bella puts kids of crime organization 'Ndrangheta into volunteer homes to keep them from entering the family business, where many have been implicated in drug-related crimes and homicides.

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

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The city of Reggio Calabria in southern Italy is home to one of the most powerful criminal syndicates in the world, a mafia-type organization known as 'Ndrangheta. It's 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 kind of approach to try to deplete the ranks of the group. Judge Di Bella presides over juvenile court, and he's trying to prevent the children of 'Ndrangheta members from joining the family business. Judge Di Bella joins us now via Skype from Reggio Calabria. Welcome to the program, judge.

ROBERTO DI BELLA: (Speaking Italian).


MARTIN: And we will be assisted today by translator Jane Chila, also in Reggio. Thanks so much for your help, Jane.

CHILA: OK. All right, not at all.

MARTIN: Judge Di Bella, can you explain how the program works? Are the children who appear before your court - they have somehow gotten involved in these crimes. They're being used already at a young age?

DI BELLA: (Speaking Italian).

CHILA: Yes. And very often it happens at 12 or 13 years of age.

MARTIN: And what kind of crimes are we talking about?

DI BELLA: (Speaking Italian).

CHILA: Homicides and mainly drug problems.

MARTIN: The young children - you said ages, sometimes, 12 years old - are implicated in homicides?

DI BELLA: (Speaking Italian).

CHILA: Yes. Not exactly 12, but that's the starting from 14, 15 years old.

MARTIN: And it's my understanding, judge, that in certain circumstances, you have actually removed these young people from their homes and placed them with other families or in youth facilities. How do you do that? Don't you get resistance from their families?

DI BELLA: (Speaking Italian).

CHILA: In many cases, the minors are sent to communities or families - volunteer families. And the mothers understand that their children are better off for them. And when they understand - the mothers - they accept that these decisions are the judge's. And many times, the mothers - they actually beg the judges to help their children, to take them away.

MARTIN: So you're describing the mothers of these young people who are desperate to help their child find another path so they don't get embroiled in this violent family business. And what you're describing - taking these young people out of the dangerous family situation and putting them with other families, I guess it's something akin to an American foster system. But can you describe what kind of situations these young people are walking into? I mean, who are the families who are opening their doors to, in some cases, convicted criminals?

DI BELLA: (Speaking Italian).

CHILA: They usually contact families - volunteer families that have already been prepared with the anti-mafia people. And so they know exactly how to handle the situation.

MARTIN: How long do they stay away from home, these young people - indefinitely, forever? Or is it sometimes a temporary period of time?

DI BELLA: (Speaking Italian).

CHILA: Usually, it's temporary. Anyway, they leave families when the minors reach their 18th year.

MARTIN: Do you have any idea what these young adults do when they leave those volunteer family situations? I mean, when they turn 18 and they're released, do they go back into the criminal syndicates?

DI BELLA: (Speaking Italian).

CHILA: Up to now, 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.

MARTIN: You're obviously trying to help these children. But inevitably, your efforts, I imagine, are diminishing the power of this mafia organization, the 'Ndrangheta. So has this been risky for you? I mean, how has the organization responded to what you're doing - literally taking their children out of their homes? Have they threatened you? Have you been threatened?

DI BELLA: (Speaking Italian).

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

MARTIN: Judge Roberto Di Bella and translator Jane Chila. We spoke with them via Skype from Reggio Calabria, Italy.

Thanks to both of you.

DI BELLA: (Speaking Italian).

CHILA: Thank you very much. Goodbye.

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