Thursday, January 12, 2017

'Prison conditions are heart-wrenching': Retired US prison chaplain

In a deadly week for prison inmates, Pope Francis has appealed for a reform of prisons and an improvement in the conditions of convicts around the world during his General Audience.

Two incidents in Brazil's penitentiaries have caused the death of nearly 90 inmates in what officials say is gang-related violence.

Deacon Thaddeus Horbowy is a retired prison chaplain for the United States Federal Bureau of Corrections. In an interview with Devin Watkins, he said the Pope's appeal is long overdue.

At the Audience, Pope Francis renewed his appeal "that prisons might be places of re-education and re-integration into society; and that the conditions of life of prisoners might be worthy of human persons."

Deacon Horbowy expressed his joy upon hearing the Holy Father's words, saying "the Jubilee Year calls for the release of prisoners".

Noting that the United States houses two million prisoners, Deacon Horbowy said recidivism is fostered by the lack of favorable conditions.

"They let them go with [very few] things after twenty or thirty years in prison - with a little bag, his records, and basically nothing - and then you make it?"

He said there are 10 million convicts who have gone through the prison system in the US.

"They cannot get a job. They feel self-condemned. There is a vacuum, there is a need, for an organization [to] help the inmates in transition and provide a parole officer, or lawyer, because they are terrified, living under stress, and that is why they come back to prison: they cannot handle the pressure."

Deacon Horbowy spent more than 20 years as chaplain in the Texas prison system, where he said: "The condition of inmates is heart-wrenching."

Among others, he told a story of how an officer shot an inmate in the head "because he presumably was escaping, and he got an award as the Officer of the Month."

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