Justice, Rights, Solidarity and Gratuity in our Time


Three solid days of meeting: the third Convention of the CNVG: the Third Convention of the CNVG (i.e. National Conference Volunteers of Justice), from October 21 to 23. The first day’s meeting was held at Rebibbia Nuovo Complesso  (the vanguard prison for treatment) in Rome. The subject was: Justice and Rights in Prisons. I was send to represent the Chaplains of Poggioreale Jails and it was a grace by God indeed.


Justice and Rights in prison

Numerous inmates had their say and well expressed their ideas: “We would like to get back into society as real citizens!” They recognized their mistakes and at the same time said: “We want to reconcile with society. We want to somehow repair for the crimes we have committed”.

Sebastiano Ardita, General Director of the Department of Corrections (D.A.P. = Dipartimento di Amministrazione Penitenziaria) for the rehabilitation of prisoners said very clearly: “Our policies are obsolete. We have to change them! Incarceration can’t be the only answer to crime. It can’t be, because it’s unfair and it doesn’t work! Prisons, as they are now, are universities of crime!” He remembered that when he used to work as a prosecutor he thought that it was his duty to make every effort to put criminals behind bars, only because they were criminals, but when he was appointed as General Director for the rehabilitation area of the DAP, he realized that most of those who end up in jail are immigrants not belonging to the European Community, drug addicts……, and to put it in other words: jails are receptacles for the underdog (people who committed crimes because of their poverty, unemployment, lack of education, etc.) His most important statement was: “Violence generates violence: we need to find another solution!” Prisons are overcrowded because, as we have already stated, they are our only answer to crime and because of a lack of funding, the rights that are at risk in prison are:

-         The right to health care: No medicines, no doctors. As one inmate said: “It is easier to meet the Holy Father than to be visited by a cardiologist.

-         The right to education

-         The right to employment


Justice and Solidarity in our time

  The subject for the 2nd day of the conference was “Justice and Solidarity in Our Time”.

Stefano Trasatti from “Redazione Sociale” was the chairman for the second day. He presented various speakers from numerous Associations and NGO’s. While introducing the speakers, he stated that information and news about prison is scarce because society has no interest. He then quoted Mr. Alessandro Margara, former director of DAP, about the fact that 70% of inmates could be out of prison because “we continue to incarcerate poverty”.

Marco Bertotto from Amnesty International pointed out that terrorism has brought about a dangerous reality in the world: “As a result of terrorism, the government limits the people’s rights in order to safeguard security. The truth is quite opposite: the more rights that you are able to offer a society, the more you create security.”

Flavio Alberti from “un Ponte per …” said that “the situation in Iraq is really dramatic. We can’t leave the Iraqis to fend for themselves. We must help them even if it could be dangerous for us. We thank God that the two Simona’s were liberated.”

Emilio Di Somma D.A.P.’s Vice President that “even though the Italian Correctional set of rules is universally recognized as one of the best in the world, we fail to put it into practice, because of a lack of funds and overcrowded jails. Prison must be the ‘extrema ratio’, that is, a place where only those who are a real danger to society should be incarcerated. The truth is that at least 70% of inmates are in prison because of a lack of solidarity from the society at the right time. The most important challenge is to help inmates get a job once they are our of prison, otherwise it is inevitable that they will return back into prison.”

Anita Morhard from E.AP.N. (European Web of Associations in the fight against poverty and marginalization) said: “That the E.A.N.P. wants to cooperate with all associations and N.G.O.’s in an effort to destroy poverty. Every human being in the world has the right to the opportunity to develop one’s personality through health, education and employment. Human life is more important than the economy!”

Fr. Albino Bizzotto from “Beati Costruttori di Pace” stated that “strangely enough when governments talk about security they think about violence: if you talk about European Security you think about a European Army; and if you think about national security, you think about the police. The problem is a cultural problem. If people could express their ideas, they would tell you that they are really against war, however, at the same time, they cannot think about security or how to solve conflicts without the use of violence. We should see the events through the eyes of the people who are the ones suffering the costs of war. In Sarajevo during the year of war, there were 30,000 people under the bombs, without food, water, electricity….. Non-violence has proven to be an incredible way to fight injustice, but weapons are being sold in order to maintain the western standard of life…..The basic question to be asked to is: people are at the service of the institutions or should the institutions be at the service of the people?”

Claudio Messina President of Saint Vincent de Paul Association said: “People seem to be worth less than things. People of all ages, in the world are dying from hunger, thirst, poverty, torture, illness.  How does the western and richer world deal with this? …only crumbs! Italy is no better than other countries; in fact it seems to be the last nation of Europe. The Saint Vincent de Paul Association, after 200 years, is still committed to bringing the spirit of sharing, solidarity and justice into society. In other words: ‘We bring the spirit of charity to society, which is the duty of every Christian and is also the very core of volunteer work’.”

Paolo Letta from Emergency, spoke of their commitment to spreading a culture of peace all over the world.

Fr. Luigi Ciotti from “Gruppo Abele” began his speech with considerations about the positive elements of everyday life. “According to the latest poll, there are almost 8,000 volunteers working for justice. This means that more and more people are aware of the importance of sticking together in the fight to improve the quality of life for everybody.

Some suggestions which could help us be more effective in our daily commitment:

-         We must evaluate our motivations for doing volunteer work: motivation is very important for success;

-         We must be humble and not take anything for granted;

-         We must be aware of our limits;

-         We need to be able to distinguish the sinners from their sins;

-         Today, we are witnessing efforts: to lower the age for punishment, to give longer sentences, to turn incarceration into the sole answer for every crime, to consider immigrants as criminals, etc. That is why we must commit ourselves to making changes within our culture;

-         We must be very careful with our use of words, because words can be used to deceive people;

-         We must put our words and our lives in synchrony;

-         We must create the opportunity for everyone to express themselves;

-         The Church must be prophetic otherwise it is not the Church. Mons. Tonino Bello used to say that in the Church a lot of words are not followed up by facts and a lot of facts are not widespread by words;

-         Participation and democracy are very important in our world. We have to defend them;

-         Political commitment is important. Pope Paul VI used to say that politics is the highest form of charity;

-         Governments say that there is no money for pensions, for the poor and for projects in behalf of inmates, etc. We don’t agree with that when we see that there is money for nothing but war. There is no money for life but there is money for death. We don’t agree at all!

-         We don’t need more prisons. Much has been said about prison as ‘extrema ratio’, but nothing has been done! People shouldn’t die in prison. Prison should be transparent! Jesus Christ did not say: If you listen to my word then you are in the truth. He said the opposite: If you are in the truth, you listen to my words! It is not enough to listen to the words of Jesus. We must put them into practice and when it comes to improving hope, there should be no discrimination against the people coming from different cultural areas.

  Renato Frisanco from FIVOL pointed out three factors of risk in today’s cultural trends:

1)      The dramatic situation of the prison system: congested jails, lack of structure, lack of health care, discrimination between inmates, abuse of precautionary custody…. the major evidence to this drama is the number of suicides in prison. The deprivation of freedom should suffice. Why should the system add more violence?

2)      The level of repression in our society is increasing. There seems to be no other response to crime but prison. If a person abandons his dog, he is sent to prison. Wouldn’t it be better to have this person work for an animalist association, rather than put him behind bars?

3)      Poverty is increasing.

What can we do?

-         Volunteerism must do some introspective reflection about what is being done and how it is done.

-         Volunteerism must denounce all the injustices it encounters.

-         Volunteerism needs more courage and imagination in finding solutions to problems.

-         Volunteers should work with everybody indiscriminately.


    Restorative Justice

       During the third day of the conference, Luciano Eusebi, professor of Criminal Justice at the Catholic   University of Piacenza, gave a speech about Restorative Justice. Professor Eusebi criticized the idea and practice of reciprocity justice, which advocates an eye for an eye and answers evil with evil; a system which doesn’t work, as 4000 years have clearly demonstrated. We must find another answer to crime. Why shouldn’t we answer evil with…..good? That is to develop a sense of freedom in criminals so that they can choose to be good. Primary and secondary prevention are more effective when a former criminal changes his way of life and submits himself voluntarily to the law.

Livio Ferrari, President of CNVG, wrapped up the whole convention with a quote of St. Francis of Assisi. Facing the challenge of everyday life, we can be overwhelmed with the problems, the shortcomings and the failures of our activities. But I want to remember the story of Saint Francis, when he said that perfect joy is not found in not how many results we can get, but how much our lives have changed. If we change, the world will change!

Fr. Bruno Oliviero