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Californian bishops urge humane treatment of prisoners

The California Catholic Conference of Bishops has launched an ecumenical project designed to boost the effectiveness of the Church's prison ministry and to initiate ongoing dialogue with the California Department of Corrections.

The bishops sent a delegation to tour prison facilities before producing a report that called for a range of measures including more chaplains, outreach to prisoners' families and victims, resettlement programs for released convicts, and assistance to undocumented immigrants.

In its recommendations to the Department of Corrections, the report called for protection of inmates' religious freedom, policies that support inmates' relationships with their families, educational and addiction recovery programs, and attention to women's health issues. It criticised practices such as indeterminate sentences and solitary confinement, denial of parole, lack of representation of California's diverse population on the parole board, and abuses by guards.

In a written response to the report, Steven Cambra, Jr., acting director of the California Corrections Department, defended some policies but asked for a "continued dialogue" with bishops. Conference executive director Ned Dolejsi said he welcomed such a dialogue and hoped it would lead to better conditions for prisoners and eventually in fewer parolees returning to crime.

The full text of the delegation's report is on the California Catholic Conference's website.