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Pope Francis visit to prison highlights national criminal justice issues

At the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia Pope Francis visited on Sunday, an estimated 80 percent of inmates have yet to be convicted of a crime, the Guardian reports. These inmates are being held in this overcrowded jail while awaiting trial, mostly because they are too poor to afford bail.

Speaking at the facility, Pope Francis told inmates:

This time in your life can only have one purpose: to give you a hand in getting back on the right road, to give you a hand to help you rejoin society. All of us are part of that effort, all of us are invited to encourage, help and enable your rehabilitation. A rehabilitation which everyone seeks and desires: inmates and their families, correctional authorities, social and educational programs. A rehabilitation which benefits and elevates the morale of the entire community.

Across the country, the prison population in America is soaring — from 500,000 people in 1980 to 2.3 million today.

A recent study by the nonprofit Center on Budget and Policy Priorities indicates the increasing incarceration rate does not correlate with an increase in crime.

Many incarcerated people are also coming from backgrounds where they had already lived in poverty. The average income prior to incarceration was $19,185 a year in 2014 dollars. Incarcerated individuals earn little or nothing during the months or years they serve. Upon their release, many have difficulty finding jobs, and are often banned from subsidized housing or other forms of government assistance. 

Ahead of the Pope’s visit, Bill Keller of The Marshall Project spoke with NewsHour’s Hari Sreenivasan about criminal justice reform across the country.

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Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multi-platform public media initiative that provid​es a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society. Major funding for this initiative is provided by The JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.​

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