THE Government’s Big Society initiative offers a new chance for Christians to minister to offenders, says the Bishop for Prisons, the Rt Revd James Jones, the Bishop of Liverpool. He recommends that parish churches become more involved with prison chaplaincies to “work together to build pathways back into the community” for prisoners.
In a lecture that he was scheduled to give last night in Liverpool, to an invited audience of those concerned with criminal justice, as part of Prison Week, he praises the contribution of chaplains, Christian groups, and churches in helping prisoners and those on probation.
Examining programmes for restorative justice, which bring together those who have suffered from crimes (such as the families of murder victims) with the offenders, he says in his lecture: “If the rumours are right, then the Green Paper will throw wide open the door to more restorative-justice courses.”
He says: “We should be asking, why are we locking up so many at such public expense, when the alternatives would certainly be cheaper, and might also be more effective in reducing the reoffending?”
Placing his approach in terms of “a uniqueness to Christian theology”, he cites the parable of the Prodigal Son, and emphasises the importance of redemption.
“The question that presses upon all of us . . . is whether or not we, too, believe in the redeemability of the offender.”
As a response, Bishop Jones urges churches to become more involved in ministering to prisoners and former offenders.
Among other “simple steps [that] would take the Church of England to those on the edge”, he suggests: “It would be good to identify discreetly those from the parish who are prisoners, and, where appropriate, for the vicar to write to them with an assurance of prayer.”