Criminal Justice – Election 2024

A Catholic understanding of criminal justice has three aims: retribution, rehabilitation and redemption.

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“Justice is properly sought solely out of love for justice itself, out of respect for the victims, as a means of preventing new crimes and protecting the common good, not as an alleged outlet for personal anger. Forgiveness is precisely what enables us to pursue justice without falling into a spiral of revenge or the injustice of forgetting.”

Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti 252

I was in prison and you visited me… as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.

Matthew 25: 36-40


The criminal justice system in England and Wales is struggling in a number of ways under the weight of both unresolved systemic challenges and unprecedented recent events. Public confidence in our courts’ effectiveness in dispensing justice has been eroded by persistent delays in investigations and trials, failing both victims, the accused, and their families.

The prison and probation services are at breaking point under the pressure of an ever-growing prison population, high levels of re-offending and significant shortages in staffing and resources. The prison population has grown by 80 per cent in the last 30 years and sentences for many offences have become longer. Attempts to reduce re-offending and rehabilitate offenders fail to adequately address the personal, social and economic factors often associated with criminal behaviour. 

We can see in the criminal justice system some of the challenges raised in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church:

“Unfortunately, the conditions under which prisoners serve their time do not always foster respect for their dignity; and often, prisons become places where new crimes are committed. Nonetheless, the environment of penal institutions offers a privileged forum for bearing witness once more to Christian concern for social issue.”

Retribution, rehabilitation and redemption

A Catholic understanding of criminal justice has three aims: retribution, rehabilitation and redemption. Criminal justice must always prioritise care for victims while seeking the reformation and rehabilitation of offenders into the community. A well-balanced criminal justice system properly punishes, rigorously rehabilitates, and effectively enables the practice of both justice and mercy to serve the ultimate good of victim, offender and wider society. This can help ensure that somebody convicted of a crime both plays a part in repairing the harm done to the victim and takes responsibility for their actions.

All humans have a wounded nature that can lead us, as the Our Father states, to “trespass”, and for others to “trespass against us”. The Lord’s Prayer calls for us to forgive, and in doing so we must address the reality of this forgiveness which requires a restoration of justice. This is important for individuals, communities, and society. It affects how we view the failings of others and how we view ourselves as their fellow and fallen human beings.

As stated in our most recent publication on criminal justice A Journey of Hope, 2018, “[w]e have a duty to support both victims of crime and those who have offended by helping them to undertake a journey of hope, mercy, forgiveness, and redemption”.


As citizens, we should encourage politicians to build a fair, humane and balanced criminal justice system that promotes both justice and mercy in the treatment of victims, offenders and their families.

  • Government should address the issues related to sentence inflation and the overuse of custodial sentences for non-violent offences as well as promoting the greater use of community sentences and restorative justice where appropriate.
  • Government and government agencies should support prison chaplaincy as a lifeline for prisoners to practice their faith, encounter the love of God and come to a fuller understanding of the dignity of human life.
  • Prisons and the probation service should be adequately staffed so as to foster a healthy and effective prison culture and the rehabilitation of ex-offenders.

What are your candidate’s views?

You may want to consider these questions when speaking to candidates seeking election.

  • Do they consider the criminal justice system to be in need of reform and, if so, what do they consider to be the major priorities for reform?
  • Do they support a reduction in the use of custodial sentences for non-violent offences, where appropriate, and greater use of community sentences and restorative justice?
  • Do they support measures to strengthen the place of prison chaplaincy within prisons?
  • Do they support an appropriately resourced probation service that is effective in reducing re-offending and rehabilitating offenders in the community?


A Journey of Hope (2018) by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. You can read / download below.

Read Dives in Misericordia on the Vatican website, an encyclical letter of Pope St John Paul II published in 1980.

Read an article in The Tablet written by Bishop Richard Moth, Lead Bishop for Prisons: Criminal justice and learning from the Good Thief.