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17 November 2014

Prisons Week organisers urge action over prison despair

Prisons Week organisers urge action over prison despair

Christians are being called to join a week of prayer to support and raise awareness for all those affected by the criminal justice system.

With prison populations more than doubling in the last 20 years, suicides rising 69 per cent in the last year and a reported 30 per cent decrease in prison officers in the last three years, these are uniquely tough times for all those involved in the criminal justice system.

Prisoners, their families, victims of crime and prison staff are among those who will be prayed for this week, 16 to 22 November, as Prisons Week celebrates its 40th year.

A number of recent reports from prison watchdogs reveal the deep crisis gripping prisons in England and Wales. Independent Monitoring Boards (IMBs) have reported on Brixton, Bristol and Winchester prisons and criticise staffing levels in particular, at a time when prison inmate numbers and incidences of assault and suicide continue to rise.

This week, the head of a review into prison suicides, Lord Harris, claimed too many people are being jailed unnecessarily and that resources were being weakened, leaving vulnerable inmates unsupervised. The comments come as the parents of Steven Davison, a 21-year-old man who killed himself in a young offender's institution, questioned why prison authorities did not do more to protect him.

Established in 1975, Prisons Week is run by a broad alliance of Christian denominations and leading faith-based charities working in the criminal justice system.

This year, its focus is on building hope;reflecting the lectionary readings for Prisons/Prisoners Sunday and the desperate situation for many of the individuals and institutions involved.  

A Prisons Week spokesperson said: "The Prison Service is facing huge challenges with record populations of more than 85,000 and many prisons suffering from overcrowding.

"There has also been a surge in serious assaults on prison staff working in these demanding conditions. The figures speak for themselves and we need to reduce the levels of distress and despair within the system ‒ by building hope.

Special services will be held throughout the week, including at Rochester Cathedral, on Sunday, 16 November at 5pm, where Rt Rev James Langstaff Bishop of Rochester and Bishop to Prisons will preach. Prisoners, ex-prisoners and local volunteers will also take part, against a backdrop of art created for the occasion by HMP Lewes' prisoners.

There will also be a seminar about the over-representation of black people in prisons at Westminster Central Hall on Friday, 21 November, hosted by Churches Together's Bishop Joe Aldred and Free Churches Faith Advisor to the National Offender Management Service and Chaplain Rev Bob Wilson.

Regional and local services will take place across the country in churches, prison chapels and prayer groups beginning on Prisons/Prisoners Sunday, 16 November and continuing throughout the week.

Videos, prayers, hymns and resources are available for Prisons Week