21 March 2014
Caring for ex-offenders
They say it takes a village to educate a child. It is also true it takes a community to re-integrate a man or woman fully back into society, helping them make the connections and relationships that enable them not only to return, but to contribute.
This is the thinking behind Caring For Ex-offenders (CFEO) in Scotland. When a man or woman goes to prison the vast majority of their decisions are made for them -when to get up, when to eat, when to wash when to exercise, when to take medication, when to collect clean laundry, what to wear, what to eat. Imprisonment, especially the longer it lasts, means they often lose the ability to make decisions for themselves.
It takes time, in some cases a long time, and considerable support, to become responsible again.
This is where the Christian community can be a huge help. With training and support from CFEO Scotland, churches can be an important part of the process of valuing individuals, taking time to get to know them, being aware of the dangers and pitfalls both for themselves and each individual leaving prison. Learning what they need - medical advice, benefits advice, work, education etc - and providing support to help decision-making, appointment-keeping and finding good company and influences.
Crucially, this process starts before someone leaves prison and through Prison Fellowship groups, initial contact can be made. This means that when a person leaves prison they can meet someone they already know and have established a rapport with.
Re-establishing oneself in a community requires extensive support and the Church has within it expertise, abilities, connections and social contacts that can be drawn shared - the raison d'etre of the Church.
The government has acknowledged that our national social services alone cannot meet all the need that exists There are concerns that an independent Scotland would have a stretched welfare budget. So whatever comes our way it is vital that local communities provide care and support.
Prisoners and ex-offenders are not 'them' they are some of 'us'. The Scottish Prison Service has deliberately described its prisons as 'community facing' because they recognise the importance of contact and support from the community in helping prevent repetition of crime. Criminologists talk about the importance of social capital and positive relationships with those of a different social situation – sounds very like the Church's calling.
The Christian community can demonstrate the heart of the good news by accepting and including, the poor,the sick, the broken hearted, the rejected, the oppressed and bringing provision, health, dignity and freedom, not justbecause there is a welfare shortfall, but because we care.