Prisons in many countries of world come under fire for being dirty, dangerous and a disaster for the fight against crime, and the system in the United Kingdom has come under fire from the country's top Catholic cleric.
In a speech to prison chaplains at their annual conference on Sept. 6 at St. Mary's University, London, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster criticized a system that, at best, "warehouses people" and, at worst, damaged them.
He said in the speech that the Church must play a role in the reform of inhumane prison system while he condemned as unacceptable the conditions in prisons in the UK and society's failure in its duty to offenders, The Tablet reported.
"It is a stain on our society that in the 21st century some prisons are still characterized by rubbish, damp, dirt, graffiti, and unhygienic facilities," he told chaplains. "A society which shows such contempt for a prisoner's dignity truly undermines that prisoner's chance of reforming their lives," Nichols said.
He referred to "shockingly" high incidents of suicide, self-harm and assault in prisons. "Every one of these is a tragedy," he said.
In his call for essential reform of the prison system, Nichols told the government, "The Catholic Church will be your partner in this. We are ready to work alongside and support you in transforming prisons from places of despair to places of redemption."
"We are ready to work alongside and support you in transforming prisons from places of despair to places of redemption.
"But I also urge you to be brave and go further than any government before: Make this the turning point where prison policy is built upon giving people the support they need to make amends and play a positive role in our society.
"It is widely accepted that effective change in our prisons will also require tackling underlying factors. One of these is sentencing policy, which is inherently linked to the expanding and increasingly unmanageable prison population. This is a challenge but with courage and commitment it need not be an insurmountable one."
In urging the Catholic Church to work for prison reform, Cardinal Nichols stressed the need to ensure that parishes can welcome and aid former prisoners seeking to deepen their faith and return to society.
"We have a duty to support them, not segregate them. Without this welcome any redemption they found in prison and any motivation they have to reform will be wasted, along with all that they have to offer," said the cardinal, making some practical suggestions.
Nichols told conference delegates that employers should exclude the tick box on initial job application forms requiring a person who has completed a prison sentence to disclose their conviction, Independent Catholic News reported.
He suggested that banning the tick box and allowing people to discuss their conviction at a later stage in the recruitment process would give them the chance to "put their past in context and show who they really are."
"Of course convictions have to be disclosed and where necessary DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) checks undertaken," he said. "But people should not be "written off without a hearing for actions in the past which may no longer have a bearing on their future."
The cardinal emphasized that prison leavers need stable employment and that true rehabilitation means not defining people by their worst actions for the rest of their life.
"It is hard to envisage the crushing disappointment of someone who has worked hard to move away from crime and learn new skills, only to be rejected for job after job and never even given the opportunity to explain how he or she HAS changed since being convicted years before.
"That is not just devastating for the individual - it deprives employers of potentially excellent and able workers and denies society working taxpayers."