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For a justice that rehabilitates and recovers for society

· The Pope asks for more dignified prisons and projects of human and spiritual assistance ·

“To practise justice” it is not enough that those found guilty of crimes be identified and punished. “Everything possible must be done to correct and improve them”, with a view to their reinsertion in society.

The role of the prison sentence in re-education and rehabilitation was reaffirmed by the Holy Father in his Discourse to those taking part in the 17th Council of Europe Conference of Directors of Prison Administrations, whom he received in Audience on Thursday morning, 22 November in the Vatican's Clementine Hall.

In Benedict XVI's opinion the re-educational purpose of the sentence is not “an ancillary or secondary aspect of the penal system” but its “culminating and defining feature”. The need for the prisoner to experience in prison “a process of rehabilitation and maturation” should in fact be seen as a “need of society itself, both because it stands to regain someone who can make a useful contribution to the common good, and also because such a process makes the prisoner less likely to re-offend and thus endanger society”.

When this does not happen, the Pope remarked, “justice is not done in an integral sense”: consequently “imprisonment that fails in its re-educational role” becomes “counter-educational and paradoxically reinforces rather than overcomes the tendency to commit crime and the threat posed to society by the individual”.

A priority, according to the Pope, is “to make the prison environment more dignified and to ensure more effective means of support and paths of formation for prisoners”. To this end “releasing sufficient financial resources” is not enough; “a change in mentality is also needed, so as to link the debate regarding respect for the human rights of prisoners with the broader debate concerning the actual implementation of criminal justice”.

Lastly Benedict XVI mentioned the matter of “the growing number of “foreign prisoners whose circumstances are often difficult and precarious”, with the invitation to create in prison “a genuinely educational community”.

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St. Peter’s Square

Sept. 21, 2019

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