Keeping faith with young offenders and justice

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Commenting an an award-winning scheme at Feltham Young Offenders Institute which provides men with a volunteer mentor to encourage them in their faith as a means of combatting re-offending, Simon Barrow, co-director of the think-tank Ekklesia, which examines religion in public life, commented:

"This interesting scheme raises a number of important questions. Faith and belief can undoubtedly play a positive role in helping people to find a moral compass. Those who want access to that kind of support and encouragement should be free to get it. But such a process needs to be distinguishable from attempts to coerce or proselytise on behalf of any one belief, and in publicly-funded institutions it clearly needs to be open to humanists and non-religious 'people of good faith' too."

Added Barrow: "Moreover, Christian belief is not just about amelioration. It is a message of transformation which raises deep questions about restorative justice and the whole process of locking away young offenders. Using faith in a 'functionalist' way to adjust individuals to institutions rather than to look for alternatives is, on its own, an inadequate approach. I'm not saying that is what the Feltham scheme is about, but more thought is needed about these wider questions."

[Ekklesia is currently researching alternatives to imprisionment and related questions of social justice in the area of crime, restoration and punishment.]