Pope blasts death penalty, life terms, max-security jails

Francis calls for better conditions for inmates

(ANSA) - Vatican City, October 23 - Pope Francis on Thursday called for the abolition of the death penalty, criticised the use of life terms and maximum security jails and called for better conditions for inmates.
    "All Christians and men of good will are called today to fight not just for the abolition of the death penalty in all its forms, whether it be legal or illegal, but also the goal of improving prison conditions, out of respect of the human dignity of people deprived of their freedom," the pope said at an audience with the International Association of Penal Law. He added that the Vatican had removed life prison terms from its criminal code for some time. "A life sentence is a hidden death penalty," he said. He added that "a form of torture is often what which is applied via detention in maximum security prisons" and described preventive custody in jail is "an illicit and concealed punishment".
    The Argentine pontiff urged the international community to help end all forms of torture anywhere it is practised too. "These abuses can only be stopped with the firm commitment of the international community" to recognise "the dignity of the human person above all (else)", he said.
    The pope went on to say that children should not be punished as criminals. "States should refrain from penally punishing children," he said. They should get "all the privileges the State is able to give," he said. The elderly, too, should get "special treatment" as pregnant woman and the handicapped do, Francis said.
    He also said crimes such as human trafficking could not be committed without the "complicity, whether active or by omission, of public authorities". The pope went on to cite the "one billion people trapped in absolute poverty" as one of the crimes that "damage human dignity and the common good".