An Italian fugitive serial killer has been arrested in France, Italy's Justice Minister said.

Minster Annamaria Cancellieri said police held Bartolomeo Gagliano, 55, in the coastal town of Menton, off the Italian border.

"Hurrah hurrah, they captured them both," Cancellieri told a parliamentary committee, commenting on the arrests of Gagliano and of another mobster who also evaded justice in a separate incident earlier this week.

Gagliano went on the run after he was allowed out of a Genoa prison on day release.

Prison authorities are considering disciplinary action against the warden at Genoa Marassi prison over the evasion, Ansa news agency reported.

Salvatore Mazzeo told media that Gagliano was let out to pay a visit to his mother only because the prison was not aware of his murderous past.

They thought he was a simple robber, he said, in a statement that was rebuffed by the Justice Minister.

"Both the penitentiary surveillance judge and the prison were fully aware of the inmate's judicial past," Cancellieri said citing correspondence between the two authorities.

Gagliano was serving time in jail for three murders and numerous other offences including robberies, thefts and assaults.

The native Sicilian, who is mentally ill, was deemed "extremely dangerous" by police.

He had evaded the authorities several times in the past and killed two people during his first prison break in the 1980s.

Gagliano committed his first murder in 1981, when he smashed the head of a 29-year-old prostitute with a rock. Later arrested, he was sentenced to eight years in a criminal asylum for the mentally ill.

In 1989 he broke out with a fellow inmate, Francesco Sedda, and embarked on a killing spree.

Less than a month after the evasion the pair killed a Uruguayan transsexual, Nahir Fernandez Rodriguez, with a shot through the mouth.

Three days later on Valentine's Day 1989 they shot dead Francesco Panizzi, a drug addict transvestite. The two felons were nicknamed 'Valentine's killers' in the wake of the attack.

They went on to gun down a prostitute named Laura Baldi, who despite injuries to the neck and the face survived, before being tracked down by police.

Gagliano and Sedda were remanded to another psychiatric institute. Sedda died in 1994, while Gagliano kept on exploiting generous day releases to evade, commit robberies, thefts and assaults.