From the Revd Peter Phillips
Sir, — William Strettle (Comment, 4 May) rightly indicates that prisons are indeed ours, and that we share responsibility for the people who live and work in them. We need to remember this, as policy moves further and further towards privatisation and foreign ownership.
Nevertheless, his picture of the system omits important features and practice. He claims that “figures are hard to come by,” but up-to-date, contextualised information about self-harm and deaths in custody is accessible on the Ministry of Justice website, and is likely to be more accurate than anecdotal detail supplied by one member of staff at HM Prison Manchester.
Similarly, the experience of prison staff varies from one establishment to another, depending partly on management practice and local culture.
Mr Strettle might also have mentioned the community chaplaincy schemes that operate in a number of prisons under the aegis of a chaplain. These seek to support prisoners as they move from prison back into the outside world, often funded by churches and peopled by volunteers. Even such a securely founded and well run scheme as that at HM Prison Swansea has sometimes been unsure about future funding; others have gone under for lack of finance or policy commitment.
He might also have mentioned the many programmes based on restorative practice, among which Prison Fellowship’s Sycamore Tree Project is one that seems to make a positive impact on people in prison.
Again, the initiative in each participating establishment often derives from a prison chaplain. Like community chaplaincy, the scheme calls for a financial investment — and it is an investment — to which there are not always the resources or the will to commit. Mr Strettle may not know of the Belief in Change scheme, a faith-related rehabilitation programme currently being piloted by NOMS in two prisons.
The picture is both more varied and more nuanced than he suggests, but he is right to urge the involvement of sinners on the outside with sinners on the inside. Just as Elizabeth Fry used to speak of “we”, so the Revd John Clay, Chaplain of Preston Prison in the 19th century, used to address his congregation as “My dear fellow sinners”. As someone said recently, we’re all in this together.
St Michael’s College
54 Cardiff Road, Llandaff
Cardiff CF5 2YJ
From the Revd David Weller
Sir, — William Strettle raised some interesting points about ministry to prisoners. But I was disappointed that his excellent article made no mention of prison chaplains. I would like to assure Mr Strettle and all Church Times readers that we, too, share in the ministry of care, rehabilitation, and restoration of all those within our walls.
HM Prison Oakwood
2 Oaks Drive, Featherstone
Staffs WV10 7QD