This realm is guilty of a grave sin against God by its rather harsh and unjust imprisonment of accused persons. Men plainly innocent are sometimes cast into prison on slight suspicion and detained there for some months before their case is heard. Who would not acknowledge that this is unjust and cruel? For this is the decree of the divine law and the law of nature as given concerning prisoners by Gratian, Valentinian, and Theodosius: “Concerning those who are imprisoned, we order definitely either that a convicted person must undergo his penalty quickly or that a person who is to be set free is not to suffer from lengthy incarceration.” It is certainly unfair and cruel to cause the torment of an innocent man even for one hour. And what should judges deem more useful and necessary for them to do than to render judgment and justice and deliver the innocent from all wrong?
And so Your Majesty will take care that a suitable remedy is applied also to this disease of the commonwealth; and on this account, he will decree, first, “that no one be cast into prison before he is convicted” or before he is arrested under the very grave and serious suspicion of having committed a felony, as they say; and that the accuser is to be subject to the lex talionis (“an eye for an eye”) and must be kept bound to it if he is discovered to have been a calumniator, according to the law of God (Deut. 19:17-21).
Your Majesty will also take care that the case of those imprisoned is taken up for a hearing as soon as there is a way of doing so, so that, as the law of pious emperors has it, a guilty man “may undergo a quick punishment” or an innocent man be restored to his activity as a free person.
And although imprisonment belongs to that kind of punishment by which coercion is applied to wicked citizens, it would nevertheless be better to devise another kind of punishment for them, such as the condemnation to some labor; this penalty, since it more effectively deters from crimes, would also be of profit to himself and his family, since those kept in prison are subject to less disgrace and are not only useless to themselves and others, but also in more than one way harmful. (See Chapter 49)