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Prisoners and Prison Chaplains

Volume 619: debated on Thursday 19 January 2017

3. How the Church of England plans to support prisoners and prison chaplains across the prison estate. (908242)

6. How the Church of England plans to support prisoners and prison chaplains across the prison estate. (908245)

The work of prison chaplains is especially important given the current pressures in the prison system. The Bishop to Prisons, the Lord Bishop of Rochester, will shortly be bringing Church of England chaplains together for a training and support event.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her answer. My private Member’s Bill combating homelessness is currently proceeding through the House. One aspect of the Bill is to help ex-offenders leaving prison to find a proper place in society. What further action can the Church take to prepare ex-offenders for a life outside prison so that they do not reoffend in the future?

I commend my hon. Friend for his private Member’s Bill. We are all keen to see it become law and for action to flow from it. The Bishop of Rochester is sponsoring a new national initiative called “Prison Hope” designed to increase the level of volunteering around prisons, and I have seen it working in practice in my own constituency. A charity called Yellow Ribbon provides prisons with mentors from the parish to help offenders prepare for life outside and for going straight, with a job, a place to live, clothes to wear and some money to live on.

Will my right hon. Friend explain what measures are in place to monitor prisoners’ commitment to the Christian faith after their release from prison? It is sometimes suggested that prisoners only start attending church services in the belief and hope that it will help them gain parole. If prisoners at least know that their continued adherence to the Christian faith is being monitored, they might think twice before trying to take advantage of the genuine support offered by prison chaplains.

Prison chaplains are highly experienced and welcome all those who show an interest in matters of faith, but they have become reasonably expert at spotting those for whom it is perhaps a means to a short-term end. It is important to remember that the primary aim is not to check ex-offenders—there is a statutory process for that, not a Church process—but to encourage whatever degree of personal faith, however small or doubtful, might possibly provide a resource to help an offender go straight.

Many prisoners are veterans who have served in the Army and other armed forces. What deliberations has the right hon. Lady had with veterans charities and Army charities to ensure that specific help is given to veterans in prisons to support their spiritual or physical health?

I have not had any specific conversations with the Army charities, but the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We have seen from the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), whose Bill is focused on homelessness, that there is a worrying nexus or correlation in relation to veterans leaving the Army and sometimes ending up homeless or getting caught up in a life of crime. All institutions, including the Church of England, need to work together to stop that happening.