Almost a quarter of Catholic prisoners encounter obstacles in the practice of their faith, a major new report commissioned by the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales has found.
Research conducted by Lemos and Crane shows that 24 per cent of Catholic inmates experience practical difficulties that stop them getting to services. These include prison officers failing to notify them when the services are starting (or failing to hear the call), timetable clashes with important activities such as medication dispensary, not being collected from their cells or their names not being on the list of prisoners permitted to attend chapel.
Several prisoners commented anecdotally that prison officers “seem not to care” about their faith and do not help them prioritise Mass attendance.
Yet the research found that faith-based mentoring drastically cuts reoffending rates. Mgr Roger Reader, the bishops’ prisons adviser and a chaplain at Feltham Young Offenders Institution, said that a Catholic and Muslim mentoring programme there had cut reoffending rates from 70 per cent to 40 per cent.
He told a press conference in London on Monday that it was the responsibility of chaplains of all faiths to help prisoners practise their religion and move away from “a life dictated by their postcode”.
Other obstacles to faith formation included ridicule from other prisoners. One respondent said: “Other prisoners call me names and tell me that I am wasting my time.”
The survey of 332 Catholics in 17 prisons and young offender institutions across England and Wales was commissioned to find out more about the spiritual and pastoral role of Catholic chaplains. The study found that chaplains are overwhelmingly trusted by inmates and that religious belief and practice is an important part of prisoners’ lives. Many of the respondents viewed faith as a lens through which they could reflect on their crimes, make amends and move forward.
Lemos and Crane made several recommendations for chaplains in the report, funded by the Jerusalem Trust, including providing prayer and study groups, which almost a quarter of Catholic prisoners want, and offering sacraments such as baptism, confirmation and the renewal of baptismal vows, which 37 per cent called for.
Bishop Richard Moth, liaison bishop for prisons, said in the report foreword: “For people of faith serving prison sentences, the acknowledgement of their spiritual needs, their access to church services and opportunities for prayer and the deepening of their faith are vital elements in their welfare and rehabilitation.”
“This report, based on effective and well-considered research, testifies to the deeply-held faith of many in prison and to the often fruitful journey taken by those prisoners who re-engage with their relationship with God or discover that relationship for the first time."
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