Pope Francis slams criminal justice system: Condemns death penalty and harsh prison conditions

"A life sentence is a hidden death penalty"

Published October 24, 2014 2:45PM (EDT)

         (AP/Lee Jin-man)
(AP/Lee Jin-man)

Pope Francis has distinguished himself as one of the most liberal popes ever by addressing some of the most important issues of the day, including gay rights and birth control. On Thursday, the pope turned his attention to an oft-ignored segment of society: prisoners.

In a meeting with the International Association of Penal Law, the pope condemned the death penalty: "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."

He added that the Vatican had abolished life terms in prison from its criminal code a while back: "A life sentence is a hidden death penalty," and "a form of torture is often what which is applied via detention in maximum security prisons." The pope also condemned preventive custody in jail as "an illicit and concealed punishment."

Although the pope was merely reiterating the Church's anti-death penalty position, his words rang especially true as the issues of prisoners' rights remains a contentious one in the United States.

According to Amnesty International, the death penalty has been abolished in over two-thirds of the 141 countries in the world. In 2010, the vast majority of executions occurred in China, Iran, North Korea, Yemen and the United States. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent in the U.S. alone on a practice that is ineffective and racially biased.

Capital punishment is legal in 32 states, with Texas and Florida going through with about 60 percent of executions in the country. As of January 2014, 3,070 people sat on death row.

By Joanna Rothkopf

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Catholic Church Death Penalty Pope Francis Prisoners