Pope Francis has called for criminal sentencing that leaves incarcerated people with hope and provides a chance at redemption.
“It’s right that those who have made a mistake pay for their mistake, but it’s even more right that those who have done wrong should be able to redeem oneself from their mistake,” the pope said in his weekly address from the Vatican. “There can’t be sentences without windows of hope.”
According to The Associated Press report dated Jan. 19, the pope did not mention any particular country or justice system in his remarks, but Catholic teaching opposes the death penalty. “Let’s think of our incarcerated brothers and sisters, and let’s think about the tenderness of God for them and pray for them so that they may find in that window of hope a way out toward a better life,” added the pope.
Otherwise, the pontiff commented, “we risk being imprisoned in a justice that doesn’t allow one to easily get back up again and confuses redemption with punishment.”
Criminal justice reform is a current topic of debate in Italy following prison unrest last year prompted by the coronavirus pandemic. Officers at a southern Italy prison allegedly beat, kicked and punched prisoners during the disturbance. Surveillance video showed guards assaulting inmates, including one in a wheelchair, said the AP.
After visiting the prison last year, Justice Minister Marta Cartabia and Italian Premier Mario Draghi promised reforms. Cartabia reported reform efforts to the country’s Parliament on January 19. She described Italy’s system as 14% overcrowded.
“It’s a condition that aggravates the relationships among inmates and which makes the work of prison personnel, often victims of aggression, even more difficult,” said Cartabia.
Potential reforms include sentences that do not involve prison time. Italy already has about 69,000 people serving sentences outside of prisons, she noted. About 54,000 people are held in Italy’s prisons, a little more than half the number incarcerated in California’s prison system.