The respect of the human dignity of prisoners is the gauge of our civilization

On the Jubilee Day dedicated to prisoners Pope Francis proposed a change of paradigm by highlighting the centrality of human dignity, which ought to be recognized even to the worst of criminals. Francis said on many previous occasions that punishment must never fall into revenge; criminal law serves to curb violence, not to exalt it. Offenders are not enemies that need to be eliminated

Pope Francis has proposed a change of paradigm: putting the dignity of the human person at the centre of criminal law issues. In fact, human dignity does not pertain to the realm of duties. Human dignity is the cornerstone of human rights. Human dignity is not lost and forgotten according to specific circumstances or behaviours. Human dignity is a fundamental gift belonging to the human person. It is therefore the task of the institutions to protect the human dignity of everyone, without exception. In clear, incontrovertible terms Pope Francis has reminded the laity that the practice of criminal justice must never override human dignity, that detention conditions must never degenerate into an abuse of the public monopoly of violence. 
 Francis said on many previous occasions that punishment must never fall into revenge: the purpose of criminal law is to curb – not to exalt – violence. Offenders are not enemies that need to be eliminated. Pope Francis’ words on prisons and justice, reiterated on the occasion of the Jubilee day dedicated to prisoners, are not generic words of hope. In fact, at a deeper level they constitute part and parcel of a governance plan on ‘security.”

Security takes shape by respecting and promoting the human dignity even of the worst of criminals.

When Pope Francis calls upon national governments to ensure improved detention conditions in prisons it isn’t only because he is a good Pope or because it is the right thing to do. In fact, he knows that in this case what is just mirrors what is useful. If a convict is ill-treated, humiliated, subjected to abuses during his imprisonment, he will feel that his condition is caused by the State, thereby validating the dangerous victimization process of person who broke the law. An inmate who is treated badly, humiliated, harassed, will not question his life story. In fact, he will shift the blame of his condition on the State. When a prison shuts its doors to legality and humanity those who were put in those jails for having broken the law will feel entitled to continue their criminal behaviour, given the mistreatment perpetrated by public institutions. Conversely, when a detainee is treated in the full respect of national and international laws, namely with humanity and justice, he will experience legality and the respect of the human person and this experience will serve as an example in his life once he is out of prison. The relapse rates of prisoners are very high, also in Italy, because prisoners are often victims of inhuman forms of punishment.
World prison population amounts to 10 million people; 55 thousand of whom in Italy. Pope Francis has asked world Countries to offer them clemency also to remedy selective justice, whereby convicts are discriminated against based on the colour of their skin, or their ethnicity. He denounced a justice that shows no mercy for those without financial resources, the poor, the drug-addicts, the migrants, those with mental disorders. We expect his appeal to be received worldwide, including Italy.

(*) chairman Antigone

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