Churches across the country are gearing up to mark 'prisons week' as the UK's prison population hits a record high.
The week kicks off on 18th November 2007, when churches across Britain are being asked to mark Prisoners' Sunday - a day of reflection and prayer for prisoners, their families, and all those involved in the prison system.
Churches and Christian charities have been amongst those campaigning for prison reform, but also for alternatives to prison to be considered more seriously by government.
The Prison Advice & Care Trust, a charity which was founded in 1898 by a group of Catholic lawyers, is sending out a pack to every Catholic parish to raise awareness of the issues and to encourage prayer and reflection.
The charity’s President, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, has leant the pack his support, saying: "In recent months, the UK's prison population has soared to 81,000, its highest ever recorded level. The system is stretched to breaking point, with the overcrowding crisis making regular headlines in our news bulletins, and a shocking increase in prison suicide levels.
"Jesus Christ teaches us to believe in the innate dignity and worth of every human being, and in the possibility of redemption, no matter what a person has done. The Christian faith calls us to demonstrate loving compassion towards the most marginalised and forgotten in society. Through justice, mercy, forgiveness and hope, no-one is beyond the reach of God's purpose."
The Prisoners’ Sunday pack contains a newsletter, prayer card, suggested prayers of intercession, and activity sheets parishes and for children’ liturgy.
Materials can also be downloaded free of charge from the charity’s website.
Pact’s Director, Andy Keen-Downs, said: "Over 150,000 children every year experience the imprisonment of a parent or close relative. Some of them live in our parishes, but suffer in silence. Every day, hundreds of prisoners walk out of prisons with no home, no job, and no one to support them. As a result, two thirds of prisoners go on to commit more crimes, and more victims. I hope that this pack will encourage parishes to think about what we can all do as Christian communities to make a difference."
For over thirty years the Prisons Week Committee has been preparing prayer literature to enable the Christian community – individuals and churches to pray for the needs of prisoners, their families, victims of crime and the many people who are involved in caring for prisoners.