Prison Ministry

01 Sep Prison Ministry

Over the summer Jane started her new ministry in prison. Not as an offender, I hasten to add, but as a chaplain. This new experience has broken our hearts for those on the margins, those at risk of offending, and those trying to not re-offend. Due to the nature of the stories, and the vulnerability of those involved, we have made a conscious decision to not share them, but they’re consistently stories of abuse; marginalisation; disappointment; ruined dreams; of one poor choice starting a roller coaster of terrible ones; undiagnosed mental health problems; or uncaring parents. It’s been both terrifying and humbling to have these young men open up and share a little of their lives.


As we’re not sharing specifics, I’ve looked to qualify our personal experience with some research. Just as I’ve started to investigate our gut feelings, I’ve spent some time looking at the figures from the Prison Reform Trust, and some of them are truly staggering. For instance, in 2015, suicide rates among those in the general population were 10.8 per 100,000 people;  contrast that with those in prison of 120 per 100,000. Thus you are 11 times more likely to have a self-inflicted death in prison. This is the statistic that brings tears to my eyes, and makes me the most frustrated at some of the systems in place in our country where we consistently fail our most vulnerable young peopleEmpty prison cell.


With recent social media profiling the 22 push up challenge, we wanted to understand the UK system and statistics for a little comparison. For those unfamiliar with the challenge, you are nominated to do 22 push ups for 22 days, in honour of 22 veterans dieing from suicide each day [in the US, in the UK the figure is lower, but still too high]. To give some context for the prisons, 290 people died in 12 months over 2015/2016, over a third of those being from suicide, which equates to nearly 2 people a week. 


The other statistics that speak to me are to do with young people in prison. Only 1% of all children in England are in care,  but they make up over half (52%) of children in secure training centres and almost two-fifths (38%) of children in young offender institutions. If we add those figures with the likes of 68% of under 18s are re-convicted within a year of release, and the higher suicide rates, you very quickly start to build a picture of how many people that start out in care, end up dead in prison.


When we think about Ruach, and think about those we are appealing to through our work, hearing that 42% of prisoners had been expelled or permanently excluded from school, we see how vital we are. We see that they just need that one person to step in, to care, and to help them break the downward spiral they find themselves on. Although we aren’t quite in that position yet, the ministry that we are currently doing is proving invaluable to our future. If nothing else, for relighting our hearts and rekindling the passion that has been slowly ebbing away.


I leave you with one final statistic, to highlight that even if you don’t believe in restorative justice, even if you don’t believe in helping people change their lives around, you might just believe in saving money. Re-offending by all recent ex-prisoners costs the economy between £9.5 and £13 billion annually. YOI Swinfen Hall costs £37,398 per year per prisoner, excluding education and health care, whereas we estimate an apprenticeship scheme through us would cost between £15,000 and £18,000, saving nearly £20,000 from the public purse.