Pope Francis appeals for an end to life sentences
Holy Father Francis has urged all countries to abolish capital punishment and eliminate sentences of life imprisonment because “a lifetime in prison is really a hidden death sentence.”
At a Vatican meeting with representatives from the International Association of Criminal Law, the Pope said that he finds it hard to believe that countries should not have any measures other than capital punishment and so-called whole-life tariffs for prisoners to defend their people.
“All Christians and people of goodwill are called today to fight for the abolition of the death penalty, be it legal or illegal, in all of its forms,” the pontiff said. “And by ‘all its forms’, I also include life sentences. A lifetime in prison is a hidden death sentence.”
His comments come as the UK’s penal system is wrestling with the news that the Parole Board has recommended the release of Harry Roberts, who was involved in the murders of three police officers in 1966 and has served 48 years behind bars as a result.
Now aged 76, Roberts has said he is not the same person as he was when he entered jail, and that he has considerable remorse for his crimes.
The European Court of Human Rights has opposed such ‘life means life’ sentences, though Lord Thomas, the Lord Chief Justice, has said that whole-life tariffs were ‘entirely compatible with the European Convention On Human Rights’.
The Pope seemed to be referring to cases such as Roberts when he said that “I link these life sentences to the death penalty. In the Penal Code of the Vatican, we have abolished the sanction of a life sentence.”
Pope Francis added that cases where a person is given the death penalty might be subject to judicial error, and could be used by totalitarian and dictatorial regimes against opponents and minorities.
“The deplorable conditions of detention in different parts of the world are authentically inhuman and degrading, often caused by deficiencies of criminal law, or by a lack of infrastructures and good planning.”
“In many cases,” he said, “they are the result of an arbitrary and merciless exercise of power over persons deprived of freedom.”
He also made it clear that he views maximum-security prisons as a pretext for torture.
The Pope cited studies by organisations defending human rights which said that the absence of Francis urges end to life sentencing motive, lack of communication and not seeing other people causes mental and physical problems. Minors and the elderly should not have to serve prison sentences, he added.
Pope Francis also brought up the subject of human trafficking.
“Based on the fact that it is impossible to commit so complex a crime as is the trafficking of persons without the complicity, be it active or by omission of action of the state, it is evident that we find ourselves faced with a crime against humanity.
“This is even truer if those who are responsible for the protection of persons and safeguarding their freedom become an accomplice of those who trade in humans.
“In those cases the State is responsible before its citizens and before the international community,” he indicated.
In the same context, the Holy Father spoke out against corruption, stressing that those who cause financial harm to society should face penalties under the Code of Criminal Justice, just like any other type of offender.
“The criminal sanction is selective. It is like a net that captures only the small fish, leaving the big fish to swim free in the ocean,” he argued.
“The forms of corruption that must be persecuted with greatest severity are those that cause grave social damage, both in economic and social questions – for example, grave fraud against public administration.”
“Corruption,” said the Pope, “is a greater evil than sin and, instead of being forgiven, it must be cured.”