Updated Thursday – see below
As background to this question, the Church of England Newspaper published a news report last week headlined Prison ministry axed.
There was also a report in the Telegraph Prison service axes Christian course and an opinion item also.
The CEN article was mentioned during the debate on the report of the business committee, at the start of the synod meeting last Friday, and it also led to an additional question being raised, which was answered on Tuesday morning. There were also several supplementary questions. The whole sequence can be listened to here.
The Ven Alan Hawker (Bristol) to ask the Chairman of the House of Bishops:
Q: In the light of recent press reports about the ending of particular Christian programmes for prisons, will the House of Bishops, in consultation with the Mission and Public Affairs Council, ascertain the facts and make representations to the Home Secretary?
The Bishop of Worcester as the Bishop to HM Prisons to reply.
A: I thank the Archdeacon and Mrs Ruoff who first raised the issue for the opportunity to correct the very inaccurate reports in the Church of England Newspaper about the ending of the Inner Change Programme at HMP Dartmoor. These reports suggest that it is becoming more difficult or even impossible to gain approval for specifically Christian programmes in prisons. I have consulted with the Chaplain General, who is of course a member of the Synod and with us this morning.
The Inner Change programme failed on five different counts to obtain approval under the Prison Services ‘Effective Intervention’ Criteria. For instance objective research on re-offending rates sadly did not confirm the claims made for the programme: experience of the programme in the USA has been mixed, and there have been concerns about its ability to integrate with general chaplaincy provision. Contrary to what is said in the CEN, the Chaplain General was not involved in the decision, which was made by the Area Manager after the usual panel meeting. The same panel and the same Area Manager have accredited a number of specifically Christian programmes including Kairos. Many specifically Christian programmes are approved and taking place in prisons – Alpha probably being the best known. The idea that chaplains have to sign a ‘multi-faith covenant’ is simply not true.
The Standing Committee of the House of Bishops is currently planning the agenda for the October meeting of the House and I have been asked by the Archbishop of York to propose an outline for a session or sessions on the criminal justice system. I am sure that the position of the Christian faith and practice in prisons would be part of that discussion. I am in regular touch with Christopher Jones and the members of the Mission and Public Affairs Division, and shall be glad with him to supply any necessary briefing if the Private Member’s Motion which has just been tabled comes to be debated.
The pressures in the prison system, with record numbers incarcerated, and the variety of religious faiths represented, present a hugely challenging environment for the Service in general and the Chaplaincy in particular. Despite these pressures, the Chaplain General has enabled the production of policies which maintain the proper balance between maintaining that which is specifically Christian and enabling proper provision for other faith communities so that the needs of their members can be met. I would wish to assure him and all chaplains of our support and our prayers in their demanding task, and Synod of the continued validity of Christian witness in prisons.
And Andrew has further comments about this on his blog here.
And, in relation to the Telegraph coverage, there is a letter from the Director General of the Prison Service here.