Christian groups asked to grow work in prisons

The work of Christian groups among prisoners has proved so successful that the Government is asking how their role can be expanded.

In a new report – ‘Working with the third sector to reduce re-offending’ – the Ministry for Justice has outlined its “ambition” to make more use of the charitable sector in prison work.

The document says: “Faith-based organisations make up a substantial part of the third sector, with a long history of working with offenders in prisons, through the gate, and in the community.”

Christian groups working with prisoners boast impressive results. One group, Kainos, says its re-offending rate is 13 per cent, compared with the Home Office average of 35 per cent.

Another group, the Prison Fellowship, highlights the historical influence that Christians have had on modern prisons.

On its website it points out that “Christians influenced 19th century prison legislation which provided for individual cells instead of dormitories and for the appointment of three members of staff – governor, doctor and chaplain.”

However, the Government acknowledges in its report that there are “a number of specific challenges for faith-based organisations” including “poor understanding of their role by all sectors” and “concerns over proselytising activity that can serve as a barrier to accessing funding”.

A report from the Church of England recently accused the Government of ignoring the valuable work that Christians – many of them volunteers – carry out in prisons, hospitals, counselling services and other organisations.

Recent comments by Hazel Blears, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, prompted concerns that Government funding for Christian social initiatives would require them to dilute their Christian character.

She said: “I am concerned to ensure that if faith groups become involved, they do so on a proper footing – not by evangelising or proselytising, but by providing services in a non-discriminatory way to the whole community.”

But the Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, insists that the Christian nature of such organisations is essential to their effectiveness.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph this summer, he argued: “Christian convictions are central to any explanation of why thousands of people volunteer for tasks, with no reward, knowing that they are doing the right thing.”

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