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British Churches Focus on Prison Ministries

Churches across England and Wales are being invited to get to know their local prison.
The invitation comes from the organizers of this year’s national “Prisons Week,” who are encouraging more volunteers to support plans in their local prison and with prisoners’ families.

This year’s Prisons Week began Nov. 17 and concludes Nov. 23.

The week has focused on the impact of the voluntary sector in working to reduce recidivism rates through mentoring, support for prisoners’ families and contributing to public policy.

Resources are based around Malachi 4:2: “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays.”

“When someone is sent to prison, their whole family serves the sentence with them,” said Alison Tyler, chair of the organizing committee. “It’s especially hard for the children, who are often separated from their parents by long distances, and seldom get to see them. We want to encourage people to consider how they might support the many organizations working with prisoners and ex-offenders as well as their families.”

The most recent figures released show that 200,000 children were affected by the imprisonment of a parent in 2009 – more than experienced their parents’ divorce.

With more than 85,000 people in custody in England and Wales and recidivism rates remaining stubbornly high, the social impact of crime and imprisonment means the future of a generation is at risk.

Faith groups in England and Wales have long been involved in prisons, both through prison chaplaincies and via charities providing a wide range of activities and support.

These groups are now responding to the changes recommended by Chris Grayling, the United Kingdom justice secretary, as part of the agenda to reduce recidivism.

Prisons Week was formed in 1975 to pray for and raise awareness of the needs of prisoners and their families, victims of offenders, prison staff and all those who care.

It consists of representatives of Christian denominations and Christian organizations and is endorsed by the Church of England, the Methodist Church, the Salvation Army, the Free Churches group and PACT (Prison Advice and Care Trust) among others.

As well as celebrating past success, the campaign aims to encourage more volunteer participation in prison-related projects.

“Prisons Week gets us thinking about three groups of people: prisoners, who are locked away and not visible to most of us; ex-prisoners who live in the community alongside us but who are also often invisible – the impact of imprisonment will stay with them for life,” said Nick Holtham, bishop of Salisbury.

“There are also their families, who often pay a very high price for their relative’s offending,” Holtham said. “What are prisons for and what do we want them to do? How are we neighbors? This is a week to support the great work by chaplaincies, churches, volunteers and Christian groups in prison across the U.K.”

A version of this article first appeared in The Baptist Times of Great Britain and is used with permission.

Editor’s note: EthicsDaily.com’s forthcoming documentary focuses on faith and prisons. It will be released in early 2014 and you can find out more at ThroughTheDoor.info.