Looking Forward In Hope-A Catholic Vision Of Educating Prisoners
Catholic prison charity Pact is emphasising the importance of prison education to help prisoners develop relationships. Andy Keen-Downs, Chief Executive of Pact, wants to see a new form of education, based on stable families and healthy relationships. “If I were to be asked to prioritise why we should educate prisoners, it would be to live in healthy, stable relationships,” he said. In 2017, Lord Michael Farmer published what the Ministry of Justice hailed as his ‘ground-breaking report’ into what works for men in prison. He followed this up this year with his new report on women in prison. He underlined “healthy relationships” as the ‘Golden Thread’ that should run through the Justice System.
Healthy and Positive Relationships
This is consistent with Catholic teaching, which identifies “the restoration or conversion of the offender” as a key feature of prison ministry and rehabilitation. We see in the Gospels that Jesus is consistently encouraging and exhorting people to be in healthy and positive relationships-tax collectors, religious leaders and those who were experiencing difficulties.
“The Farmer Reports added to an already substantial and growing international evidence based on the significance of healthy stable relationships and desistance from offending. The Ministry of Justice already knew from its own research that, for a prisoner who receives visits from a family member, the odds of re-offending are 39% lower than for those who do not,” Mr Keen-Downs said.
Prisons “As Places of Learning And Rehabilitation”
Whilst affirming the need for helping prisoners develop functional skills in preparing for the world of work, Mr Keen-Downs insists there are further reasons for prison education. In this, he highlights the involvement of families as a key factor.
“When the MoJ, and HM Inspectorates of Prisons, Probation and Ofsted studied what worked for prisoners on release in terms of accommodation and employment outcomes, the single most important factor was the involvement of prisoners’ own family members. And more recently, Cambridge University’s ‘FAIR’ study shows a strong correlation between those ex-prisoners who get clean and stay clean, and family relationships,” he said.
Pact see prisons “as places of learning and rehabilitation” in which “the innate dignity and worth of every human being is valued.” Their family literacy courses have enabled many prisoners to develop literacy skills to stand them in good stead for the future. After attending such a course, one prisoner appreciated the importance of family. “I’ve realised how important my role is and how really important it is to stay in touch with my kids,” he said. Another prisoner’s wife saw a significant change in her husband: “This (course) is brilliant,” she said. “It’s making him realise being a dad is so important and that when he comes out he needs to stop offending to be around for his kid.”
The Golden Thread Of Prison Reform
Andy Keen-Downs again emphasised the importance of family as a key motivation for prisoners to stay away from prison.
“In the 14 years I have been with Pact, I can’t begin to tell you how many hundreds of times prisoners and ex-prisoners have told me that the thing that is motivating them to stop offending, more than anything else was their own family. That’s the biggest punishment of deprivation of liberty. Not being with the people who you love, and who love you,” he said.
“The single biggest motivation to change was children. What drove people to our classes were kids saying ‘Daddy, can you read me a story?’ and ‘Mum, can you help me with my homework?’ Healthy, stable relationships, and the realistic hope of having a happy family life, have been shown to have a greater impact on motivation to learn, motivate to change, on stable accommodation and on employment after prison, than any single other factor,” he added.
He is promoting the use of family learning, parenting, or relationship education in prisons as an effective response to Michael Farmer’s words: ‘Strong, stable families and healthy relationships must be the golden thread of prison reform.’
Opening Up New Pathways And New Possibilities For Prisoners
Educating prisoners is not the easy option. Pope Francis noted this during a meeting with 50 participants in an international conference on the Catholic Church’s pastoral care of prisons, which took place at the Vatican this week: “It is easier and comfortable to suppress than to educate, to deny the injustice present in society and to create these spaces for shutting off transgressors into oblivion than to offer equal opportunities for development to all citizens.” Yet the Church calls us to care for prisoners, seeing them as Christ himself: “I was in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25:36) Education and learning can open up new pathways and new possibilities for prisoners who cannot see beyond the four walls. Interestingly, Pope Francis, spoke about the need to provide prisoners with new hope. One cannot change his life without seeing a horizon, he said, and asked the participants to make sure their prisons always have a window and a horizon. We can see, then, the importance of education, hope and the future in the mission of the Church towards prisoners. The Holy Spirit always offers hope, even in desperate situations: “Hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5)
Listen To Our Prayers
As we continue to pray for prisoners, their families and those who care for them, the following prayer may be useful. It was written by Rt. Rev. Richard Moth, Liaison Bishop for Prisons, for Prisons Week 2019:
Lord Jesus Christ, You have come so that we may have life to the full. Listen to our prayers for all in prison and their families. Touched by your Spirit, may they find newness of heart and be open to that new life that is found only in you. May they know care, and receive support from those around them. May they find new purpose in serving you in their brothers and sisters.
Our Lady of Mercy, pray for us
St Maximilian Kolbe, pray for us
Picture: Christian Inman, left, plays a game with his mother, Tracy Inman, while his sister, Katelyn, colours with their father, Jimmy Inman, at the CrossOver Prison Ministries’ Holiday Party. (CNS photo/Joe Ruff, Catholic Voice)