Prisons Mustn't Be Limited to Punishment, Pope Stresses

Sees Rehabilitation of Inmates as a Goal

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 26, 2004 ( John Paul II says that prison methods which focus only on repressive measures are inadequate since the real goal of correctional institutions should be the authentic rehabilitation of inmates.

The Pope also contends that public order does not contrast with the inalienable rights of prisoners.

He made those points today when receiving in audience the participants in a Rome conference attended by prison directors from nations that adhere to the Council of Europe.

A prisoner’s dignity as a person must always be recognized, as a subject of rights and duties, the Holy Father said, adding that in «every civil nation there must be shared concern for preserving the inalienable rights of every human being.»

Thus, «you must correct eventual laws and norms which hinder [these rights], especially when it is a matter of the right to life and to health, the right to culture, to work, to the exercise of freedom of thought, and to the profession of one’s own faith,» John Paul II said.

«Respecting human dignity is a value of European culture whose roots are based in Christianity; it is a universal human value and, as such, is open to the broadest consensus,» he added. «Every state must take care to see that full attention to basic human rights is guaranteed in all prisons.»

«Measures that are simply repressive or punitive, to which one normally has recourse today, are inadequate for reaching the objective of an authentic recuperation of inmates,» the Holy Father said. «Therefore, it is necessary to rethink the situation in prisons in its very foundations and ends.

«If the objective of penitentiary structures is not just custody, but also the recuperation of the inmates, it is necessary to abolish those physical and moral treatments that are harmful to human dignity, and to commit yourselves to better qualifying professionally the role of those who work within penal institutes.»

«From this point of view,» John Paul added, «the search must be encouraged for alternative punishments to prison, supporting those initiatives of authentic social integration of the prisoners with programs of human, professional and spiritual formation.»

In this context, the Holy Father emphasized the assistance «in a certain sense irreplaceable» offered by «ministers of worship» in prisons, as well as by volunteer associations.

The Pontiff echoed the concern of some social sectors that «respect for the human dignity of prisoners must not occur to the detriment of concern for society.»

«But the dutiful application of justice to defend citizens and public order must not contrast with the due attention to the rights of prisoners and to rehabilitating them,» he said. «On the contrary, this is a question of two aspects that must be integrated. Prevention and repression, detention and rehabilitation, are complementary acts.»

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