Pope Francis has called for an end to sentences of life in prison and said that criminal penalties should not apply to children, according to the Catholic News Service.

“Life imprisonment is a hidden death penalty,” said the pope, who also called for an end to capital punishment.

Pope Francis made the comments during a meeting with representatives from the International Association of Penal Law. They come just months after he responded to the hundreds of letters we sent to him from people serving life in prison without the possibility of parole for crimes committed as children. In his response to the letters, he said he was “deeply moved” by the prisoners’ words and called for “mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation.”

More than 2,500 people have been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for crimes committed as children. The United States is the only country in the world that sentences children to die in prison.

The pope’s call for more humane justice policies comes as a diverse, broad-based alliance that includes national and international faith-based organizations – including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops — has joined together to express their opposition to life-without-parole sentences for children by signing on to our Statement of Principles.

Read excerpts from the letters to Pope Francis

Read Pope Francis’ letter

Read the full story from today

View a list of national organizations that oppose life without parole for children