Vincent de Paul consoling prisoners_jpgGiven St. Vincent’s legendary concern for prisoners I suspect he would be very interested in this US hot button issue today.

The issue today … “On August 12 Attorney General Eric Holder announced that federal prosecutors will circumvent federal sentencing guidelines for nonviolent, low-level drug offenders with no ties to larger drug-trafficking. The move will spare some individuals from the harshest federal drug-sentencing guidelines that could otherwise keep them looped into the criminal justice system for years and decades, as well as the concomitant cycle of poverty that affects so many convicted of crimes.  And now, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (C.C.H.D.), the anti-poverty initiative of the US Catholic bishops, is looking at the problem with the hopes of finding possible solutions.”

Impact of privatizing prisons

“Many people are unaware that federal, state, and local governments “outsource” some of their incarceration facilities, and that two companies, the Correctional Corporation of America (C.C.A.) and the GEO Group, with combined revenues of over $3 billion, spend hundreds of thousands of dollars each year lobbying federal, state, and local officials. When CCA and GEO open new facilities, they rely on a steady stream of “clients” to fill the beds.

“A report earlier this summer inThe Nation showed that GEO lobbied Congress to consider an enforcement-first immigration policy, increasing the need for detention facilities to house undocumented individuals as they await hearings or deportation. Border enforcement provisions of one version of the bill call for the construction of an additional 14,000 prison beds, at a $1.6 billion price tag.”

“Reports of abuse in private prisons has been covered extensively in the media”….

“The price of the status quo includes building more prisons, enriching groups like GEO and C.C.A., and disenfranchising large groups of people. By publicizing sentencing guidelines and the impact of private prison companies, C.C.H.D. and the church are bringing attention to criminal justice structures, that if left unchanged, will perpetuate poverty for millions.”

Full article

The respected publication The Economist says Holder’s ideas do not go far enough.

Here are some pertinent quotes from Vincent

(It should be remembers that Vincent is speaking about the galley slaves and all these quotes are in that regard)

The sisters at the Hotel-Dieu have patients, but they don’t have to care for poor convicts. Who takes pity on those poor criminals, abandoned by everyone? The poor Daughters of Charity. Isn’t that doing what we’ve said: to honor the great charity of Our Lord, who assisted all the most wretched sinners, without taking their crimes into consideration? (CCD:X:93).

Even convicts, with whom I have spent some time, are not won over in any other way. Whenever I happened to speak sharply to them, I spoiled everything; on the contrary, when I praised them for their resignation and sympathized with them in their sufferings; when I told them they were fortunate to have their purgatory in this world; when I kissed their chains, showed compassion for their distress, and expressed sorrow for their misfortune, it was then that they listened to me, gave glory to God, and opened themselves to salvation (CCD:IV:58).

Ah! Sisters, what a happiness to serve those poor convicts abandoned into the hands of persons who have no pity for them! I’ve seen those poor men treated like animals; that caused God to be moved with compassion. They inspired pity in Him; as a result, His Goodness did two things on their behalf: first, He had a house bought for them; second, He willed to arrange matters in such a way as to have them served by His own daughters, because to say a Daughter of Charity is to say a daughter of God (CCD:X:103)

Do not take a hard line against abuses, if you see that greater harm can come from this. Use gentle methods to get whatever good you can from priests and monks who are slaves, as well as from merchants and captives. Resort to severe measures only in extreme cases for fear lest the hardship they are already enduring in their stale of captivity, joined to the strictness you might want to exercise in virtue of your authority, drive them to despair (CCD:IV:126).

I ask you, then, to condescend as much as possible to human weakness. You will win over slaves who are priests by sympathizing with them rather than by rebuke and correction. It is not light they need but strength, and strength permeates through the external balm of words and good example. I am not saying that their disorders should be either condoned or allowed but that, in their present condition, remedies for them must be mild and gentle and applied very cautiously because of the place (CCD:IV:127).



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