Pope Francis called on all Christians and people of good will to struggle for abolition of the death penalty and life imprisonment and “to improve prison conditions, out of respect for the human dignity of persons deprived of their liberty.”
Speaking yesterday to a meeting of the International Association of Penal Law, the pope denounced what he called “penal populism” – excessive punishment schemes based on the flawed belief that most “social problems can be resolved through public punishment.”
The pope reaffirmed the Catholic church’s longstanding opposition to the death penalty and went on to call for abolition of life sentences. “Life imprisonment is a hidden death penalty,” he said, also noting that the Vatican recently eliminated life imprisonment from its penal code.
Pope Francis said criminal penalties should not apply to children. He spoke out against pretrial detention, solitary confinement, imprisonment of the elderly, and the practice of “illegal transportation to detention centers in which torture is practiced.” Maximum security prisons can be a form of torture, he said, since their “principal characteristic is none other than external isolation,” which can lead to “psychic and physical sufferings such as paranoia, anxiety, depression and weight loss and significantly increase the chance of suicide.”
The pope also recognized the need to confront the presumption of guilt that burdens people of color, criticizing the exploitation of “stereotypical figures that sum up the characteristics that society perceives as threatening.” He noted that some politicians and members of the media promote “violence and revenge, public and private, not only against those responsible for crimes, but also against those under suspicion, justified or not.”