By Antoine Lokongo
THE Pon's plea for a global review of prison systems and the reduction of sentences as a Jubilee gesture of clemency for prisoners last weekend sparked a wave of solidarity throughout the world.
John Paul II's message comes as suicide, poor health care, racism, abuses and a lack of genuine rehabilitation programmes are rife in jails in England and Wales, according to Sir David. Ramsbotham, Chief Inspector of Prisons.
Auxiliary Bishop Patrick O'Donoghue of Westminster celebrated Mass at Wormwood Scrubs prison last Sunday. in the company of Prisons Minister Paul Boateng, who was invited to give a short talk after Holy Communion and who said he had read the Pope's document on prisons and was "very much influenced" by it.
Fr Patrick Cope, chaplain to young offenders and director of One 2 One Mentoring Project, a De Paul Trust venture in London, Birmingham and Newcastle, said that he welcomed the Pope's message which he said meant prisons gates could not exclude inmates from the great event of the 2,000th anniversary of Christ's birth.
"I handed the Holy Father's letter to prison officers at the institution. where I am attached, and they welcomed it. Although senior managers there have no power to reduce sentences, they have at least agreed to look at the issue and to discuss it," said Fr Cope.
He added: "There is no need to keep people in custody unless they have persistently committed serious crimes. Minor offences can be dealt with by increasing the tagging system or the rehabilitation programmes within the community. Often custody leads to family breakdown as it leaves prisoners isolated and even more bitter.
"That is why between 60 to 80 per cent of young offenders and half of the adults end up re-offending only after two years from being released."
Alexander King of The Bourne Trust, a Catholic charity which offers support for Paul Boateng: 'much influenced' by the Pope prisoners and their families, said he was pleased the Pope's message came as political parties in Britain were trying to show they were tough on law and order.
He said: "We imprison more people than any other European country, except Portugal. The prison population has risen to 10,000 since March 1997, and by 25,000 in the last eight years. The use of long sentences is often inappropriate and often detention creates more problems than it solves, especially when most of the people who are in jails now are there just for having committed non-violent and minor offences such as defaulting on fines or offences against properties."
But Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe told The Catholic Herald that sentence reduction would be inappropriate in Britain where "we have a high level of applications for early release even of serious criminals".
She branded the idea that people should not be locked up for non-violent crimes as "false" because "the effects of their offences on the victims are long-lasting" and blamed the Government for the appalling conditions in prisons because it was "not matching words with actions".
Meanwhile, the Dublin Prison Chaplaincy Team last week submitted a report to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, John O'Donoghue. The concerns focused on the poor treatment of psychiatric prisoners; drug abuse in prison; prison overcrowding; the granting of temporary release on humanitarian grounds, and the treatment of sex offenders.
SEcitFTARY of State for International Development launched a scathing attack on the Catholic Church's teaching on contraception on Tuesday, calling it "the greatest obstacle in the fight against AIDS in Africa", writes Antoine Lokongo.
Commenting on the AIDS Conference taking place in Durban,
South Africa, this week, Clare Short told Radio 4's Today Programme, that the Catholic Church was "stuck and wrong on this question".
She said: "Yes, it apposes contraception but most Catholics in the world use it. Lots and lots of Catholics are ignoring the Catholic Church's teaching, including lots of good priests and nuns who are In favour of condoms being made available."
Gary Streeter, Shadow Secretary of State for International Development said: "Clare Short's shallow attempts to place blame on the Catholic Church are both unhelpful and insulting."