Reduce prison sentences, says Pope

 Pope John Paul II has written a message about prisons. Released on Friday, it was written for the 'Jubilee for Prisons' which takes place next Sunday (9 July) as part of the church's programme of events for the year 2000. In the statement, the Pope examines many aspects of imprisonment, from a Christian perspective. He urges governments to review prison systems and consider cutting sentences in 'a gesture of clemency'. The statement opens with a description of the meaning of the Jubilee Year: that the Church celebrates the incarnation of Christ, who 'is in search of every human being, whatever the situation'. It says that the Jubilee helps us remember the past, but also looks to the future. Faith can help the prisoner find an 'inner balance'. Pope John Paul says: "Even time in prison is God's time." God is ready to journey with everyone at their own pace. The message explains that the Jubilee is about change. It is: 'a chance to right injustices, mitigate excesses, recover what might otherwise be lost'. Prison is also about promoting the interests of prisoners, rather than being simply 'a mere act of vengeance on the part of society, provoking only hatred in the prisoners themselves'. The Pope says the Jubilee is a time for society to reflect on the situation of prisoners. "In some cases detention seems to create more problems than it solves. This must prompt rethinking with a view to some kind of reform." He adds: "regulations contrary to the dignity and fundamental rights of the human person should be definitively abolished from national legislation, as should laws which deny prisoners religious freedom." The Pope also refers to suffering resulting from harassment and violence in prisons, and from the difficulty of maintaining contact with families and loved ones. Appealing to governments to review their prison systems, he says they should give more consideration to penalties other than imprisonment. Prisoners should be enabled to work and train so that they can re-enter the workforce at the end of their sentence, and also become involved in charitable projects. The Pope asks authorities for "a gesture of clemency towards all those in prison: a reduction, even a modest one, of the term of punishment would be for prisoners a clear sign of sensitivity to their condition, and would surely evoke a positive echo in their hearts and encourage them to regret the evil done and lead them to personal repentance". The complete text will be available on the Vatican website,

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