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Thursday, February 23, 2017
Bishops call for radical reform of prisons
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¬†A profound change of attitudes and policies towards punishment and prisons is called for in a new report by the Catholic bishops of England & Wales, launched today at Brixton Prison in south London. A Place of Redemption - a report from the Department for Christian Responsibility and Citizenship of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England & Wales - says prisons are failing both offenders and victims. It calls for major reforms in penal policy, describes the state of the nation's prisons as "a scandal", and says money is going into expanding, rather than improving, the prison system. The report says prisons are too crowded and offer too few opportunities for education for prisoners. With two-thirds of offenders re-offending within two years of their release, prisons are failing to make society safe. It says: "For too long there has been a tendency to consider prison at the ultimate backstop for all society's problems. This must stop. Prison must not be a dustbin for the problems society fails to address elsewhere... Prisons without hope are mere storage pens. Our present penal policy is tantamount to a sentence of banishment and little more..." The 115-page report, A Place of Redemption, is being presented this morning at Brixton Prison to Prisons Minister Paul Goggins by the Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor. The report calls for a fundamental change of approach. "The Christian understanding of the purpose of punishment cannot be one that is purely punitive or deterrent... Punishment should contain retribution, but more importantly it must be reformative and rehabilitative". Among the specific recommendations in the report are: * a full working day - of eight hours, five days a week, to help inmates acquire a work ethic or gain new skills . * more schemes to make the hiring of ex-offenders attractive to employers, * improved education in prisons, * more cash for drugs treatment, * better mental health care for prisoners, and * greater bias towards the needs of women, ethnic minorities and prisoners' children. A Place of Redemption, published by Burns & Oates in conjunction with the Bishops' Conference, highlights the "terrible overcrowding" in jails and observes that "suicide in prisons is up 40 per cent, and drug use is widespread". It states: "The prison system, which this year reached its highest-ever recorded number of prisoners, is stretched to breaking point." In the foreword, Archbishop Peter Smith, Chairman of the Bishops' Conference's Department of Christian Responsibility & Citizenship and Archbishop of Cardiff, says: "A Christian approach to punishment and prison is not a soft option. Love is not the same as being lenient. But Love always looks to the good of the other. In terms of penal policy this means taking every opportunity to reform and restore, never resting content with justifications for policy based only on the need to contain, to deter, or to punish." The report is also a call to the Catholic community to become more engaged in voluntary work: "As a Church we have to acknowledge that concern for those in prison is - despite it being one of the baldest of Jesus's commands as to how his followers are to serve him Ů is not high up the agenda of many Christians. On this we all need to examine our consciences." Source: CCS
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