Church prison project folds through lack of Government support

By agency reporter
April 1, 2009

A pioneering prison support project, welcomed by hundreds of inmates and staff, has folded due to lack of Government support.

The project, developed in Lancashire by the Church of England’s Diocese of Blackburn, was designed to be of national benefit by cutting re-offending rates through comprehensive support to prisoners and their families.

More than 1,300 prisoners applied to join the pilot project, in four Lancashire gaols, during its three-year lifespan. The Family Days and Support Project trained 120 volunteers to work with four prisons, Preston, Lancaster Castle, Kirkham and Wymott, in creating opportunities for families to spend time together in creative activities.

“The project has helped shape future plans for prisoners and their families in the prisons,” said a 70 page project review, published today (April 1). “The consensus was that the project has filled a niche and will be badly missed.

“The overwhelming feeling is one of sadness and frustration that the project has ended [,] and worry that much of the good which it has undoubtedly done may be wasted without something to take its place. The general conclusion is that this project, or something very similar, should not only be reinstated in Lancashire but repeated throughout the country.”

The project aimed to create a “through the gate” support policy, keeping families together, reducing re-offending rates by 20 per cent and achieving a £3 saving for each £1 invested.

Prisoner rehabilitation started during the first week of a prisoner’s sentence and the project included encouraging work with other prisoner problems like drugs, accommodation, employment and education and training.

Peter Nowland, who supervised the project for the Church of England, said availability of funding from HM Prison Service North-west changed during the year in which the three year Treasury funding ran out.

While some of the work led to Family Support posts being set up in prisons “this does not fully address the family issues in the community, nor the need to support families and ex-offenders upon release.”

An unamed prison governor said: “I think we’d be foolish if we didn’t roll it out, not just regionally but nationally because it’s a key part of what prisoners need… recognition there’s gaps in their lives that we’ve been trying to fix.”

A prisoner commented: “As a prison Listener I truly believe that this project is playing an additional role towards suicide prevention, self-harm reduction… in what I regard as a vital project for the Prison Service.” And a family member added: “If I won the lottery I’d give Grassroots (the Church department running the scheme) a couple of million quid just to carry on.”

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