Concern for inmates, prison reform is obligatory act of mercy, pope says

Pope Francis has called for greater efforts to push forward prison reform, address the underlying causes of crime and ensure an inmate is accepted back into society once they have completed their sentence.

Speaking at a recent international gathering of national and regional heads of Catholic prison ministries, the pope urged Catholics to look closely at sentencing rules, reported CNS.

He told them that such rules should be set to ensure they do not encourage “a throwaway culture.”

“Many times,” Pope Francis said, societies “in a supposed search for good and for security, seek the isolation and imprisonment of those who act against social norms,” believing that incarceration is “the ultimate solution to the problems of community life.”

Many people prefer to use resources to oppress offenders rather than try to “promote the integral development of people, which reduces the circumstances that favor committing illegal acts,” Pope Francis said.

“It is easier to repress than to educate,” he added.

“Denying the injustice present in society and creating these spaces to put offenders is easier than offering equal development opportunities to all citizens.”

The purpose of prison is not just to punish but to educate an inmate so that they can return and re-engage constructively with society, he said.

More “resources to address the social, psychological and family problems experienced by detainees,” are needed, the pope told the gathering.

Simply shutting people away in the hope that a “windowless” jail cell will teach them “the error of their ways is not the answer,” he said.

“There is no humane punishment without a horizon. No one can change their life if they don’t see a horizon. And so many times we are used to blocking the view of our inmates.”

Offer hope to inmates by ensuring “that in your countries the prisons always have a window and horizon; even a life sentence — which for me is questionable — even a life sentence would have to have a horizon,” the pope told the prison ministers.

Greater attention from the Church is also needed to helping people following their release, the pope continued.

“Often when leaving prison, the person finds himself in a world that is alien to him and that does not recognize him as trustworthy, even excluding him from the possibility of working to obtain a decent livelihood,” he said.

“By preventing people from regaining the full exercise of their dignity,” that lack of opportunity is again staring them in the face and exposing them to the same circumstances that led them to resorting to crime in the first place, he said.

The pope ended with a tale about driving past a prison back in Argentina and noticing a queue of people waiting outside to visit the prisoners.

He said mothers would be there early and “undergo often humiliating security checks,” he said.

“These women were not ashamed that the whole world saw them. ‘My son is there’ and they showed their faces for their sons.”

He called on Catholics to learn motherhood from women like these “and learn the gestures of motherhood that we must have for our brothers and sisters who are detained.”

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