Monday, 31 July 2006

Prison Service: radio discussion

From the BBC radio programme Sunday:

Inner Change Freedom Initiative

The Inner Change Freedom Initiative is a Christian programme aimed at reforming prisoners which has been in operation in Dartmoor since April but the Prison Service has now denied it formal approval and that means it will have to stop in October. The people who run the programme, the Prison Fellowship, believe it is being shut down because it’s too Christian and falls foul of the prison’s diversity policy. They have attracted some high level support in the Church hierarchy. The Bishop of Lewes, Wallace Benn, says the Chaplain General of the Prison Service should resign over the matter. However by no means all his fellow bishops agree. Edward [Stourton] talked to Peter Selby, the bishop of Worcester, who is the Church of England’s Bishop for Prisons.

Listen (4m 3s) (Real Audio)

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Monday, 31 July 2006 at 8:34pm BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England

I seem to recall an article in the Church Times (?) not so long since on this one. One of the most difficult things for the scheme's proponents to admit was that it didn't seem to do what it said on the tin, and the the US claims of reduced reoffending etc etc were not borne out by the evidence.

There are two possible responses to that one, to say, "oh dear, we'd best look at what we're up to, then" or to shout "persecution/political correctness gone mad".

Given that Alpha operates within Britain's prisons, anyone who claims a bias against evangelical Christianity clearly needs their bumps felt (obscure reference to phrenology for transatlantic listeners).

Posted by: mynsterpreost on Tuesday, 1 August 2006 at 6:40pm BST

This issue raises a very serious issue about Prison Chaplaincy.

"He who pays the piper calls the tune." The Prison Service pays chaplains. This has serious consequences.

Significantly on this latest issue the Chaplain General has remained silent. Yet, he briefed the Prison authorities who closed this course. In these days of openness could his briefing be made generally available? If not, why not? Is it true that the Chaplain General was in Dartmoor Prison the day the course was closed. If so why?

In the thrust for equal recognition of faiths, and covenants for chaplains etc. is the Chaplain General responding to Christian thought - or rather Home Office glossies and their targets? Will chaplains’ covenants simply introduce a two tier chaplaincy?

Encouraging the 'poor' and marginalised into Christian community has been a part of Christianity from the beginning. This is not about Alpha Courses, it is about Christian community. What alternative Christian programmes to the rejected programme is the Prison Service Chaplaincy advocating?

I am told the Prison Service pays the Chaplain General more than bishops! The time has come for the Prison Service to pay faith communities to make chaplaincy provision, rather as they pay for educational and other services. Then the voice of the Church will be more freely heard and chaplains will be less shackled to the values of the prison service.

It has been said that the Chaplain General asks the Home Office press office for checking before he gives them! What does this say about the priest as a prophet and missioner? Sadly, the Chaplain General's office has not spoken clearly or unequivocally on behalf of christians on serious issues such as mission in prisons, prison conditions, prison suicides etc. On these issues, and perhaps on others, the response has been weak or disingenuous.

This issue is not an anti-evangelical one. It is a sad fact that the Prison Chaplaincy takes the lead from the Prison Service, not from Theology or the Gospel. Thus the pastoral and prophetic role of ministers of faith in prison is compromised.

What sets the agenda for the Anglican Chaplain General - and the (Prison Service paid) Christian Chaplaincy - the Prison Service aims and targets, or the Gospel?

The Bishop of Lewes calls for change. He is right to do so.


Posted by: Simon Keeling on Friday, 4 August 2006 at 10:45am BST

I worked in the Prison Service for many years as a Chaplain. what we attempted was a multi faith ministry; this resonates with the conflicts at the cutting edge of world politics. The joy of Christianity and especially Anglicanism is its inclusiveness; we preach and live that inclusiveness. The issues which have always been at the top of my agenda in Prisons were justice equality, forgiveness and any programmes which were exclusive and too particular would fai to meet thereal needs of prisoners and be divisive rather than unifying.

Posted by: Mike Dixon on Friday, 4 August 2006 at 8:59pm BST
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