The Rebibbia prison in Rome, Italy. File picture: Jin Yu/Xinhua

Rome - A woman detained in an Italian prison has killed one of her two young children and seriously injured another during a fit of rage.

The incident took place Tuesday in Rome's Rebibbia prison, Dario Pasquini, a spokesman for Italy's commissioner for the rights of detainees, Mauro Palma, told dpa.

The woman, who has a history of mental health problems, threw her children down the stairs while spending time with them at the prison's in-house nursery.

One child died in the fall, while the other was taken to the Vatican's Bambino Gesu child hospital in a critical condition, the spokesman said.

There were conflicting reports about the age and gender of the two children, but they were both believed to be under 3. Their mother is German, with Georgian origins, and was born in 1985, Pasquini said.

In Italy, children of detained women aged under 3 are typically kept with their mothers, either inside prisons or in special detention centres for convicted mothers.

In 2011, a law was passed to get all convicted women with small children moved from prisons to alternative detention facilities, but it was never fully implemented.

According to prison service statistics quoted by the ANSA news agency, Italian prisons currently host 52 convicted mothers, with 62 children in tow.

To have "innocent" children grow up behind bars "is unacceptable, as well as dangerous," Mara Carfagna, a former minister from the opposition Forza Italia party, said in a statement.