THE Government says it will treat faith groups fairly, after complaints that some were suffering discrimination over funding and permission to work with offenders.
In a drive towards “competitive neutrality”, the Department of Justice, in Working with the Third Sector to Reduce Re-offending, published this month, says that it wants to reduce the barriers to faith groups’ and others’ being involved in helping prisoners both in prison and when they are released.
There are groups such as the Kainos community, which operates in three prisons, in Dorset, Kent, and Rutland, has been running for more than ten years, and says that it has reduced levels of reoffending from 25 per cent to 13 per cent.
Now the Government has set aside £2.3 million over three years, to help groups equip themselves for the same kind of work. A consultation found a lack of understanding in the Government, the criminal justice system, and the general public about the part that faith groups could play.
The document says that people were worried that faith groups would proselytise, and as a result, some had been denied funding. That meant that their opportunity to provide a “distinctive voice” was often overlooked. They felt “disappointment and frustration”, and they wanted more clarity about “the potential scale and scope of future opportunities” for them in the system. They also wanted to receive training.
The Government now speaks of “positively encouraging and enabling” faith groups and other voluntary organisations to become involved with prisons and even to hold them to account. Faith bodies have had “a long history of working with offenders, in prisons, through the gate, and in the community”, the document says.
This has included work that was “non-faith based; access to spiritual care and support for offenders who are of faith, and support for offenders returning to communities where faith is a strong part of the fabric of that community”. They can offer “invaluable” links into communities, and are sometimes “the principle gateway and source of support to these communities”.
The minority faiths have special needs, the document says, and prison and community chaplaincies should have a greater multifaith dimension. “There would be benefits for offenders from closer links between chaplaincy and probation, building on links such as those to deliver unpaid work projects.”
The Government intends to “recognise and strengthen the role of a thriving, diverse and independent third sector in reducing re-offending, including serious re-offending”. Faith-based organisations make up a “substantial part of the third sector”.
The Government report is available from www.justice.gov.uk/publications/third-sector-reoffending.htm