Pope Francis, during his visit to Cereso correctional facility on Wednesday 17th Feb, (the facility once a center of gang power and home to 3,000 prisoners), strongly condemned societies that normalize the sufferings of inmates.
The Argentine Pontiff, speaking in a penitentiary system once plagued by overcrowding, massive violence and corruption where inmates acted violently, enforced discipline on themselves and drug lords instilled gang related morals among the inmates, he urged the society to focus on prevention, reintegration and a system of “social health,” instead of on only on incarceration and insisting that inmates pay for their crimes.
“Celebrating the Jubilee of Mercy with you is recalling the pressing journey that we must undertake in order to break the cycle of violence and crime. We have already lost many decades thinking and believing that everything will be resolved by isolating, separating, incarcerating, and ridding ourselves of problems, believing that these policies really solve problems,” the Pope said. “We have forgotten to focus on what must truly be our concern: people’s lives; their lives, those of their families, and those who have suffered because of this cycle of violence,” he added.
Cases of murders, cases of self-harm, serious assaults and violence are on serious rise in different male prisons. Prison managers in Ciudad Juarez say their facility — once a center and symbol of gang power and also considered the most violent in Latin America — has vastly improved since 2010, when 216 inmates were killed in the state. “You couldn’t enter a single prison without asking permission from the inmates, they were the ones who controlled things,” said one prison official.
The Pontiff had once said during his visit to the Philadelphia jail: “It is painful when we see prison systems which are not concerned to care for wounds, to soothe pain, to offer new possibilities. It is painful when we see people who think that only others need to be cleansed, purified, and do not recognize that their weariness, pain and wounds are also the weariness, pain and wounds of society.” He expressed solidarity with the inmates saying, “All of us have something we need to be cleansed of or purified from. All of us!”
“Jesus urges us to have mercy that embraces everyone and is found in every corner of the world. There is no place beyond the reach of his mercy, no space or person it cannot touch,” he continued.
He called concern for prisoners “a moral imperative for the whole society,” in working to toward an improved “common life.”
At the end of his visit to the facility, Pope Francis prayed with the inmates telling them that only they knew what they would ask forgiveness for.
“I tell you from my own wounds, errors and sin, that the Lord wants to forgive,” he concluded.