Mozambique's Maputo Archdiocese Giving Former Inmates a "second chance"

Fr. Antonio Perretta, director of Casa da Misericórdia, Archdiocese of Maputo in Mozambique, with inmates in one of the prisons in Maputo.
Credit: Public Domain

In view of ensuring that former inmates are fully reintegrated into the society, the Archdiocese of Maputo in Mozambique is giving a second chance to people who have previously served prison sentences by housing them, giving them an opportunity to start a new life. 

Through a project called Casa da Misericórdia (House of Mercy), the Archdiocese has set up a home that seeks to "help those who have made mistakes to move towards goodness and respect for others, encouraging their reintegration into society, without falling back into crime" the director of Casa da Misericórdia, Fr. Antonio Perretta told Vatican News in an interview. 

Founded in 2016, the home was established after realizing that “people who had problems with the law who stayed in jail and especially young people who leave jail find it very difficult to reintegrate into society either because their families often reject them. Society is also afraid of them,” Fr. Antonio said.

He continued, “After so many years of working in jails I realized that the Church needed to offer a place even for this category of people. A second chance laboratory in the sense that here the young person has the possibility of a second chance of life after having offended society after having started a not good journey that led to jail.”

“The House provides pathways for spiritual and human growth through multiple activities such as prayer and catechesis, biblical formation, the School of Life, and professional workshops,” the Scottish missionary belonging to the Missionary Community of Villaregia added.

The southern Africa nation has seen a significant increase in petty crime in recent years, resulting in multiple arrests and overcrowding of the four prisons in the capital, Maputo. 

With a population of over 3,500 inmates, most of them young people, living conditions in the prisons are deplorable with malnutrition and poor hygiene very common, according to a report.

The overwhelmed prisons have been termed as a potential medium for the spread of COVID-19 in the country where 29 have tested positive for the virus.

“Mozambique jails, which have five times more than its real 4,498 capacity, are overcrowded and this would be risky for the pandemic spread,” Minister for Justice, Religious and Constitutional Matters Helena Kida was quoted as saying.

For this reason, the country's Parliament on April 6, passed an amnesty law on sentences affecting 5,032 local and foreign nationals to reduce congestion and curb the spread of COVID-19, according to a report.

For Fr. Antonio, Casa da Misericórdia welcomes three categories of people whose length of stay in the house can vary from six months to one year but exceptionally the period can be extended.

“The house welcomes three categories of people on parole who freely choose to come here after having already spent half of their sentence in jail. They express a desire to be helped by the Catholic Church,” the Scottish cleric said.

“We have a second category of people whom we can welcome. They are prisoners who have served one third of their sentence,” he further said and added, “Following a good behavior of the inmate, a request can be made. The prison authorities then examine the request, which can be accepted or rejected. 

“If accepted, the inmate remains in jail until he reaches half of the sentence and then obtaining the conditioned freedom he can choose either to continue in the House of Mercy a time to finish his reinsertion or to leave for his family and continue his social reinsertion,” Fr. Antonio said.

He explained, “We also have the possibility to welcome young inmates. We are already receiving young people, especially some minors, that is, people aged 16 or 17 in conflict with the law, who receive an alternative measure to jail according to Mozambican law.” 

Casa da Misericórdia currently has 13 young people for rehabilitation. During their time at Casa da Misericórdia, former inmates learn some arts and professional technical courses such as sewing and computer science. 

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