15 November 2013
Prison affects more children than divorce
Church groups urge people to get to know their local prison.
by Amanda Pilz
More children are affected by prison than by divorce, says the organising committee of this year's national Prisons Week (17-23 November).
With over 85,000 people in custody in England and Wales, and re-offending rates remaining stubbornly high, the social impact of crime and imprisonment means the future of a generation is at risk.
Recent figures found that around 20,000 young people are currently in prison and 70 per cent of them will re-offend within a year. Results show that 200,000 children were affected by the imprisonment of a parent in 2009 – that's more than experienced their parents' divorce.
In response, people across England and Wales are being invited to get to know their local prison in order to help bring about change in the UK's penal system.
The invitation, as part of national Prisons Week, comes from the Church of England, the Methodist Church, the Salvation Army, the Free Churches group and PACT (Prison Advice and Care Trust). They are encouraging support and prayer for schemes run in local prisons, and alongside prisoners' families.
As well as celebrating past success, national Prisons Week aims to encourage more volunteer participation in prison-related projects, challenging people to say 'I'm in' and finding out what happens inside prisons by contacting either sponsoring organisations or prison chaplaincies.
Rev Alison Tyler, chair of the organising committee, said: "When someone is sent to prison, their whole family serves the sentence with them. It's especially hard for the children, who are often separated from their parents by long distances, and seldom get to see them.
"We want to encourage people to consider how they might support the many organisations working with prisoners and ex-offenders, as well as their families"
National Prisons week will focus on the impact of the voluntary sector in working to reduce re-offending rates, through mentoring, support for prisoners' families and contributing to public policy.
The Bishop of Salisbury, Rt Rev Nick Holtham said: "Prisons Week gets us thinking about three groups of people: prisoners, who are locked away and not visible to most of us; ex-prisoners who live in the community alongside us but who are also often invisible - the impact of imprisonment will stay with them for life. There are also their families, who often pay a very high price for their relative's offending.
"What are prisons for and what do we want them to do? How are we neighbours? This is a week to support the great work of chaplaincies, churches, volunteers and Christian groups in prisons across the UK."
Faith groups in England and Wales have long been involved in work in prisons, both through prison chaplaincies and charity activities and project
National Prisons Week has been running since 1975, supported by the major Christian denominations in England and Wales. The Committee, an ecumenical group made up of a number of Christian organisations, seeks to raise awareness of the issues surrounding imprisonment for prisoners, their families, prison staff, the wider Criminal Justice system, and society as a whole.
Get involved. www.prisonsweek.org