Hundreds of people marched through Rome Sunday, demanding judicial reform. The marchers called for an amnesty for people sentenced to lesser crimes, as a means of alleviating overcrowding in the country's prisons. Italy has long been criticized for the slow pace of cases working their way through the courts.

People from all over the country, including many politicians and journalists, took part in the Christmas Day march in Rome to call for a prison amnesty. Organizers say an amnesty for lesser crimes in Italy is needed, because prisons have reached bursting point, and the justice system cannot cope with the number of pending trials.

Sixty-thousand people are being held in Italian prisons. That is 20,000 more than the prisons were designed to hold. About eight-million court cases are pending.

Past amnesties have affected people whose crimes drew sentences of less than three years. Proponents of a new amnesty say it would clear one-third of people detained and one-third of pending court cases.

Among those taking part in Sunday's march was former EU Commissioner Emma Bonino. "I think this is a great moment to launch the reform of justice in our country," she said.

The leader of the opposition Left Democrats Party, Massimo d'Alema, said many people are not getting the justice they deserve. "I think there needs to be an act of clemency, an act of humanity. The situation of prisons in Italy is impossible, and I think does not create conditions of security," he said. "Rather, citizens feel more insecure."

On Saturday, Justice Minister Roberto Castelli announced that Italy plans to build four additional prisons to alleviate overcrowding.

Italy has long been under fire for being unable to hold speedy trials. Court cases can take years to run their course, due to the achingly slow justice system. The Council of Europe has also deplored the fact that little has been done to tackle the excessive length of judicial proceedings in Italy.

The lower house of parliament is to meet Tuesday in extraordinary session to debate the amnesty issue. An amnesty would require a two-thirds majority in Parliament.