10/23/2014 12:10 pm ET Updated Oct 25, 2014

Pope Francis Defends Prisoners' Rights, Calls For Abolition Of Death Penalty

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Pope Francis is speaking up for some of the most outcast members of society -- the prisoners.

The pontiff condemned the practice of extraordinary renditions on Thursday, a counterterrorism strategy that involves moving suspects to secret foreign prisons and often using torture to extract information.

The practice has been used by the United States' CIA after the Sept. 11 attacks, the AP reports. More than 50 nations are also involved in the scheme, according to the Open Society Foundations.

The pope also issued a call for the abolition of the death penalty, harshly criticizing prison systems around the world for overstepping boundaries, mistreating inmates, and failing to recognize the sanctity of human life.

“All Christians and men of good will are called today to fight not just for the abolition of the death penalty in all its forms, whether it be legal or illegal, but also the goal of improving prison conditions, out of respect of the human dignity of people deprived of their freedom," the pope said during a meeting with the International Association of Penal Law.

Francis added that locking people up for life amounts to a “hidden death penalty,” noting that Vatican City has removed the life sentence from its criminal code, ANSA reports.

The pontiff also lashed out against the use of preventative detention, calling it "hidden, illegal punishment." He spoke against the criminal punishment of children and urged for the “special treatment” of elderly prisoners.

Francis’ speech reaffirmed the Catholic church’s long-held position on the death penalty.

In America, support for the death penalty has dipped as low as 42% in 1966 and reached as high as 80% in 1994, according to Gallup. Since the peak in the mid-1980s, public support for the death penalty has dropped to 63% and has remained relatively stable since 2008.

According to Gallup, “These trends toward diminished support seem to be reflected in state death penalty laws, as six U.S. states have abolished the death penalty since 2007, and no new states have adopted it.”



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