Pope Calls for an End to Life Sentences for Criminals: ‘Not the Solution’
Pope Francis says life imprisonment will 'erase hope in the future' for dangerous convicts
Pope Francis has renewed his calls to end life sentences for dangerous criminals — such as serial killers, repeat sex offenders, and child-abusers — during an address before prison workers.
The head of the Catholic Church spoke before an audience of Italian prison guards and staff in Saint Peter’s Square on September 14.
While commending them for their work, he also spoke of prisoners and called on prison officials not to “suffocate the flame of hope” for convicts.
During his speech, Francis said that even the deadliest of criminals should not lose hope of being reintegrated into society.
The pope went on to suggest that everyone has a duty to keep this hope for corporal freedom alive, stating that life imprisonment is “a problem to be solved”:
"Dear brothers and sisters, to revive this flame [of hope] is the duty of all.
"It is up to every society to feed it, to ensure that punishment does not compromise the right to hope, that prospects of reconciliation and reintegration are guaranteed.
"While remedying the mistakes of the past, we cannot erase hope in the future.
"Life imprisonment is not the solution to problems, but a problem to be solved.
"Because if hope is locked up, there is no future for society.
"Never deprive anyone of the right to start over!
"You, dear brothers and sisters, with your work and your service are witnesses of this right: the right to hope, the right to start anew."
Speaking to prison police, guards and staff, Francis publicly thanked them for their work, which is often hidden and poorly paid.
“I know that it isn’t easy,” the pope said, “but when, in addition to watching over security, you are a presence close to those who have fallen into the web of evil, you become builders of the future, you lay the foundations for a coexistence that is more respectful and, therefore, for a society that is safer.”
The pontiff also argued that a prison sentence has the role of preparing detainees to return to society and contribute to their community as upstanding citizens.
Francis said this responsibility falls to the guards, who spend the most time with them, who must be models of treating others with dignity and respect.
“I thank you for not only being vigilant but especially for safeguarding the people entrusted to you so that in recognizing the wrong they did, they will accept avenues of rebirth for the good of all,” the pope told the guards.
“You are called to be bridges between the prison and civil society,” he told the guards.
By “exercising a correct compassion, you can overcome the mutual fears and the drama of indifference” that separate the inmates and wider society.
This was only the most recent of many statements the Argentinian pontiff has made concerning punishment for criminal acts.
Pope Francis has famously stated that capital punishment is “inadmissible” and changed the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church to reflect this view.
Francis has also made a number of statements condemning life imprisonment and even sentences that are merely long.
In so doing, Pope Francis has attacked one of the most convincing arguments against the death penalty, one employed by such figures as Saint John Paul II: that nowadays, violent criminals can be prevented from future harm to the community by being permanently separated from it in a prison.