The Anglican Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, has questioned the deterrent effect of imprisonment and severe prison sentencing.
In a lecture last week to the Prisoners Education Trust, Dr Sentamu lauded the pivotal role of communities in handling offenders and stressed the need for restorative justice.
Giving the Trust's annual lecture, the Archbishop declared: "We should be pained and troubled by the size of our prison population in Britain, the sheer number of individuals who have given up on community – and feel that community has given up on them. We need to show love and compassion while ensuring justice is served and seen to be served".
In his lecture, entitled 'Human Responsibilities, Independent of Circumstances', Dr Sentamu said that there is a need to teach young people to value themselves and act responsibly towards others in community, rather than relying on individualistic greed and self-satisfaction.
He said: "In modern culture, the rights of the individual are now paramount – but you cannot have these rights without obligations and responsibilities. We need to get back to valuing ourselves and our neighbours – and understanding that there is a cost involved when a crime is committed. A cost to the criminal, a cost to the victim and a cost to the community."
The Archbishop argued that reintegration should be the stated aim of all justice and penal systems; and that a culture of blame and condemnation alienates both the victim and offender.
He added: "We are all too prone to find fault with the circumstances in which we find ourselves, and this becomes our ready and familiar excuse when our conduct is found wanting. We all have to accept the consequences of the law."
In highlighting the role of community service, the Archbishop continued: "Putting more and more people away behind locked doors, for longer and longer sentences, does not help society. Neither does it help the individual. What we need is to educate people about how they can be better citizens – not encouraging people to turn their back on society, as some sort of perceived underclass."
Dr Sentamu described a growing movement in different cities amongst the communities, to stand out against the violence of gangs, and the use of knives and guns. In Churches, there has been the growth of the Street Pastor movement, he said, where volunteers from churches are trained and then commit themselves to going out on the streets at night, being a presence for peace in some of the trouble spots of our cities.
Dr Sentamu has been a chaplain at Latchmere House remand centre. He also served on the Stephen Lawrence Murder Inquiry, the Damilola Taylor Murder Review.
When Bishop of Birmingham he was involved in pastoral and policy issues following the deaths of Letitia Shakespeare and Charlene Ellis.
He came to Britain after being a judge in Uganda and escaping the brutal Idi Amin regime.
Read the full lecture here: http://www.archbishopofyork.org/3001