The situation of prisons continues to be a reflection of our social reality and, consequently, of our egoism and indifference, synthesized in a throwaway culture,” according to Pope Francis. “We are going to be judged on this.”
The Pope raised his concerns on November 8, in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican, when he spoke to the participants in the International Meeting of the Regional and National Ministers of the Penitentiary Pastoral, promoted by the Dicastery for the Service of Integral Human Development, on the theme: “Integral Human Development and the Catholic Penitentiary Pastoral”.
“Often society — through legalistic and inhuman decisions, justified in an alleged quest for the good and for security — seeks with the isolation and imprisonment of those that act against the social norms, the ultimate solution to the problems of community life,” the Pope said. “Justified thus is that great quantities of public resources are allocated to repress the offenders instead of truly seeking the promotion of an integral development of persons, which will reduce the circumstances that foster the carrying out of illicit actions.”
The Holy Father suggested that this approach – simply locking offenders away – is an easier, more convenient approach than to offer all citizens an equal opportunity for development. And he lamented that those places of detention lack the resources to prepare prisoners for a return to society.
“Today, in a special way, our societies are called to overcome the stigmatization of those that have committed an error, as instead of offering help and adequate resources to live a worthy life, we have accustomed ourselves to discard more than to consider the efforts the person makes to correspond to God’s love in his life,” Francis said. “As Christian communities, we must ask ourselves a question. If these brothers and sisters have already paid for the evil committed, why is a new social punishment put on their shoulders by rejection and indifference?”
Disputable life sentences
The Pope concluded his address by describing two images:
•There is no human punishment without a horizon and see to it that in your countries the prisons, the jails always have windows and a horizon, including a life sentence, which for me is disputable, a life sentence should also have a horizon.
•I saw several times when I went on the bus in Buenos Aires to a parish of the Villa Devoto area and passed by the Devoto Prison: the line of people going to visit the detained, especially the image of the mothers, the mothers of the detained that everybody saw, because they were in the queue one hour before entering and who then were subjected to security searches, often humiliating. Those women weren’t ashamed if the whole world saw them. Their son was there and they showed their face for their son.