Monday, 27 October 2008

No faith in prison reform

A piece in yesterday's Observer about godbotherers in prisons make me wonder if even the 'broadsheet' press bothers with basic fact-checking any more.
In Faith groups spreading the word on the wings one Jamie Doward claims: 'the unspoken truth is that, in an increasingly irreligious society, Jesus continues to walk the wings of Britain's prisons, offering salvation to those who have no other chance of saving themselves.'
He goes on to quote ad nauseum from twattish cults like the Kainos Community and Prison Fellowship Ministries without bothering to verify their claims.
Take Kainos's claim, 'independently verified by academics' , that 'only 13 per cent of the serious offenders who complete its courses go on to reoffend after two years, compared with 35 per cent across the prison service average.'
Actually, the report they're referring to was demanded as part of a 1999 Home Office review to decide if Kainos should be further funded after running out of public money two years into a four year program. It's not available to the public, as Kainos paid for it, but a parliamentary committee considered it, and their 'executive summary' said that a comparison between those who had been through Kainos and 14,000 prisoners serving similar sentences in similar prisons found no significant difference in re-offending rates. By comparison, prisoners on other, more secular, rehabilitation programmes were on average 10% less likely to offend again.
Then he confuses things by saying 'The Prison Fellowship has more than 120 local prison prayer groups and 900 volunteers from all Christian denominations' , but unless I'm mistaken, this refers to their US program where they are one of four beneficiaries of a $22.5 million diversion of public funds towards evangelical chancers and away from proper prison reform work, not the UK. They shouldn't even be working in UK prisons since their 'InnerChange Freedom Initiative' was kicked out of Dartmoor for failing to ‘enhance diversity’ (i.e. they wouldn't work with anyone of other faiths or none) and this at the initial request of the UK's Chaplain General himself.
Funniest of all, Doward refers to Working with the Third Sector to Reduce Reoffending as a 'new document'. It has been available since early last year, and taken such a kicking from everyone from the BHA through to all serious prison reform and prisoners rights groups that there isn't a 'fact' left unchallenged.
OK, he later quotes doubters ranging from the NSS to the Howard League and NAPO, the prison officer union, but would most folk read that far anyway?
This has a Manx angle too. Since about 2003 the Salvation Army have been lobbying Tynwald to hand over prison reform to them in entirety, using an example of a Kainos style program they ran in a Nottinghamshire prison. They already run the bail hostel, where I continue to hear that good court reports depend on prayer meeting attendance - last year, for example, two Muslim remand prisoners seem to have been unable to get any bail before their court case came up because of this. The SA depend for 'drug and alcohol counselling' on the equally ridiculous Stauros cult running out of Broadway Baptists down the road. Housing and resettlement help for ex-prisoners is organised by a 'family liason officer' who also helps run Graih - another pathetic Broadway initiative where hardcore homeless alkies give an excuse for public funding to evangelicals too disorientated to stack Tesco shelves.....and so it goes on.
Considering that, by my calculations, at least as many evangelical pastors have been imprisoned for serious offences on the island in the last decade as have been employed for prison chaplaincy work, you have to wonder if anyone is still awake at the Department for Home Affairs.
The further you look and join the dots, the more you realise the Manx government are simply not serious about tackling social exclusion, but quite content to hide that by employing 'faith groups' to provide token programs with no proper audit procedure at a 10th of the cost of the professionals.

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