By Robin Gomes
Pope Francis is urging for a change in the outlook and approach in treating prisoners who, he said, must be offered equal opportunities for reform, development and reintegration.
He made the remark to the participants in the international conference on the theme, “Integral Human Development and Catholic Prison Pastoral Care”. The November 7 - 8 meeting was organized by the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.
Integral human development
The Pope said, “Many times society, through legalistic and inhumane decisions, justified by an alleged search for good and security, seeks in the isolation and detention of those who act against social norms, the ultimate solution to the problems of community life.”
The Pope lamented that large amounts of public resources are allocated to suppressing offenders instead of truly seeking the promotion of the integral development of people, which reduces the circumstances that encourage committing of illegal acts.
He said, “It is easier and comfortable to suppress than to educate, to deny the injustice present in society and to create these spaces for shutting off transgressors into oblivion than to offer equal opportunities for development to all citizens.” He said this is an “educated way of discarding persons”.
Pope Francis noted that places of detention often fail to promote reintegration into society because they lack sufficient resources and also because of frequent overcrowding which turns prisons into real places of what he called, “depersonalisation”. On the contrary, real social reintegration, he said, starts by guaranteeing opportunities for development, education, decent work, access to healthcare, as well as generating public spaces for civic participation.
The Pope urged today’s society to overcome the stigmatization of someone who has made a mistake because, he said, “instead of offering help and adequate resources to live a dignified life, we are accustomed to discarding the person rather than making efforts for him or her to return to the love of God in his or her life.”
Often, he said, a person leaving prison faces an alien world that does not recognize him or her as trustworthy, denying him or her the possibility of working for a dignified livelihood.
With these people prevented from regaining the full exercise of their dignity, the Pope warned, they are once again exposed to the dangers of the lack of development opportunities, in the midst of violence and insecurity.
The Holy Father said that these prisoners, who have already served their sentences for the evil committed, should not be subject to a new social punishment with rejection and indifference. Such aversion, he warned, exposes them to falling back on the same mistakes.
Window and horizon
Setting aside his prepared Spanish text, the Pope offered the participants two images to take back home to their countries and regions. Firstly, he said, one cannot speak about debt repayment by prisoners without offering them a window and one cannot change his life without seeing a horizon. He asked the participants to make sure their prisons always have a window and a horizon. “Even a life sentence, which for me is debatable, would have to have a horizon,” he stressed.
The second image is drawn from the Pope’s own experience at the Devoto Prison of his native Buenos Aires, where he used to see a long line of mothers of detainees being subjected to security checks, often humiliating. For the sake of their children, these women were not ashamed to be seen by everyone. The Pope urged that the Church learn about motherhood from these women for these detained brothers and sisters.