COMMUNITY chaplaincy in prisons and probation services in the UK is pushed on by caring relationships between staff and prisoners, but is held back by a lack of funding, a new report has concluded.
Community chaplaincies are voluntary faith-based organisations that provide mentoring and resettlement support for people leaving prison, and their families.
The report Community Chaplaincy and Desistance: Seeing a new future was published by the Community Chaplaincy Association (CCA) earlier this month. The authors are Dr Jane Dominey and Dr Elizabeth Lowson of the Institute of Criminology at the University of Cambridge.
“Community chaplaincy can be thought of as the ‘scaffolding’ that supports service users through the transition from prison to stability in the community; scaffolding that can be gradually removed or temporarily reinforced in response to progress or problems,” the report says.
It is based on 57 interviews in two chaplaincies last year — West Yorkshire Community Chaplaincy Project (WYCCP), and Futures Unlocked in Warwickshire — alongside analysis of existing data from community chaplaincy records and research visits.
All those interviewed were men, the majority white British, who had been imprisoned for either violence, theft, drugs, child cruelty, or sex offences; most of them were serving a sentence of more than a year.
Of these, 37 per cent reported needing help to secure accommodation on their release; 15 per cent had been homeless before entering custody. Poor mental health, and drug-and-alcohol abuse were a common concern of leaving prisoners.
Most prisoners said that they had spoken to community chaplains in the hope of addressing these concerns. Chaplains had taken prisoners or probationers to appointments, and helped them to manage money, and secure benefits, foodbank vouchers, furniture, and clothing.
Community chaplaincy can play a “crucial role” in supporting progress towards desistance, the report says, but the challenges of funding need to be addressed.
“The funding position is fragile. Community chaplaincies expand, shrink, or close as income fluctuates, and much staff and trustee time is taken up with fund-raising and bid-writing.
“Understanding and negotiating the new world of bids and contracts was time-consuming, funding streams were uncertain and insufficient, and the introduction of market competition turned other voluntary sector agencies from partners to rivals.”
Matthew Devlin, who chairs the Community Chaplaincy Association, said: “With all the recent changes to probation services, we commissioned this research to evidence our contribution to supporting people to move away from crime, but also to capture the breadth of support we offer. We hope the report will encourage more people to get involved with community chaplaincy.”
To read the report, visit www.communitychaplaincy.org.uk.
Community chaplains to be used by police. COMMUNITY chaplains are to be enlisted by the police in Haringey, north London, to help resolve conflicts at public events in the area, the force announced.
The UK-wide Community Chaplaincy Association (CCA) oversees more than 100 community chaplains in the borough, who support prison-leavers to prevent re-offending.
A volunteer for Haringey Police, Christina Davis, said that the network would now support its officers at music festivals and large events to “reassure the public, feed intelligence, diffuse conflict, and alert the emergency services to incidents”, from this month. The chaplains would also be used to form stronger ties with the community and educate young people on crime and gang violence.
The Revd Gavin Jacobs, a former prison chaplain who has been on police independent advisory panels in the UK since 2003, is leading the team. “Many young victims or perpetrators of violence, or their families, belong to a church,” he said. “The best people to speak to about the issues in a community would be the ministers, who can relate messages from the pulpit.”
He began training community chaplains in Haringey, in 2013, and now chairs the Independent Advisory Group, supporting the police on community matters. He has led similar liaisons in his previous boroughs.
Nominated chaplains are accredited by a panel for the three-month training course, with input from the police and ex-offenders. “Part of the training is a six-week-long course on gun, knife, and gang crime, because most ministers have little or no knowledge of gangs on the borough: they know of them, but they do not necessarily know how they work, or how to engage them.”
Mr Jacobs is also launching a youth chaplaincy programme (16- to 25-year-olds) with Haringey Police, next year, to better address gang culture, after successful pilots in Coventry and Leeds. “I do not expect every young person to understand gangs, but young people understand their peers better than adults do,” he said.
“Peer pressure is a big thing: we are giving young people the same mechanisms, training, and language to understand their peers better and encourage them to take a different route.”
Inspector Karl Rogers, from the community-and-youth engagement team at Haringey Police, said: “We are delighted to be able to call on Haringey’s community chaplains to assist us in focusing on public safety and in minimising reoffending, and look forward to working with them and the new youth chaplains.”