Pope Francis, Criminal-Justice Reformer?

By Jesse Wegman

October 24, 2014

Pope Francis continues to speak out on issues that have long scared off even the bravest American politicians.

In a remarkable speech before international penal-law representatives on Oct. 23, the leader of the Catholic Church called for an end to the excesses of criminal punishment, or what he termed “penal populism,” according to a report by the Catholic News Service.

A central error of modern societies, he said, is the belief that “most varied social problems can be resolved through public punishment.”The pope reiterated the church’s longstanding opposition to the death penalty, but he went further, calling for the abolition of life without parole, which he referred to as “the hidden death penalty.”

He connected these sentences with the importance of ensuring better prison conditions “out of respect for the human dignity of persons deprived of their liberty” — a sentiment that would be unimaginable coming from any major American political figure, with the periodic exception of outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder.

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