By Steve Scherer
ROME (Reuters) - For nearly 8,000 young Italians hungry for work, the state exam last month for just 400 jobs as prison guards was a fiasco. For the mafia, it may have been a great opportunity, prosecutors in Rome say.
They are now investigating widespread and organized cheating, with 88 people caught wearing bracelets or mobile phone covers carrying the answers to the test, or with radio transmitters and earpieces thought to have been used to pipe in the answers.
The Camorra mafia north of Naples, based where a company printed the exams, may have got hold of the answers and tried to get its own people inside a prison system that is holding 7,000 gang members, including some 700 bosses, prosecutors say.
The mafia clan is also thought to have sold the answers to other applicants for as much as 25,000 euros ($28,000), according to posts on social media.
The Rome court would not give details of the investigation but the Justice Ministry wants to nullify the exam results.
"It's shameful," Donato Capece, general secretary of Italy's biggest union for penitentiary workers, Sappe, said of the possible rigging of the exam. "We were the first ones to ask the ministry for clarity" after cheating was discovered, he said.
In Italy, where youth unemployment has been about 40 percent for three years and full-time staff jobs are nearly impossible to find, the exam sheds light on some of woes that have long afflicted the economy: widespread corruption, pervasive mafia influence, a lack of meritocracy and a rigid labor market.
"Unfortunately, those who deserve jobs often are not the ones who get them," said 29-year-old Mina, one of the 1,400 women to take the prison guard exam. "We don't get to have dreams for the future."
Cheating in exams for public jobs is not uncommon in Italy, and there have been several criminal investigations in recent years, including into tests for a university professorship and to be a traffic policeman.
In a square near the Justice Ministry in Rome on Tuesday, dozens of people in their 20s who took the test in April, as well as Sappe members, blew whistles, waved flags and sang the national anthem, demanding that the government immediately hire 1,000 new guards.
"I would be proud to wear a uniform for the state," Mario, 25, said. "But it's also a question of finding a job because it's very difficult in Italy to find employment and have a future."
Protesting alongside him, Maurizio, 24, said: "We're sick of Italy's indifference and code of silence."
(Editing by Louise Ireland)