Prisons Week is urgently calling on Christians to join the annual week of prayer from 15-21 November to support and raise awareness for all those affected by the criminal justice system.
This call to prayer and action comes just days after the House of Lords debated the findings of The Harris Review: Changing Prisons, Saving Lives which examined the suicides of 18-24 year olds in custody. Members described the report as “harrowing reading” telling how vulnerable individuals became victims of the pressures and failings of an overstretched system.
Earlier in the month, charities involved in working with children of prisoners appealed for a national government strategy to support the estimated 200,000 children and young people who are currently statistically “more likely to go to prison than to university” and twice as likely to suffer mental health problems than their peers.
Prisoners, their families, victims of crime and prison staff are among those who will be prayed for during Prisons Week (15-21 November) which is run by a broad alliance of Christian denominations and leading faith-based charities working in the criminal justice system.
This year’s theme of ‘A new and living way’ reflects the hope and promise of new life made possible through Christ’s love and death for us, described in the lectionary reading from Hebrews chapter 10. Regardless of who we are, what we’ve done or what we’ve suffered, faith and discipleship offers a new beginning and template for living, as Jesus showed us. It is a timely message from scripture to help one another hold onto hope, to encourage each other in love and action, as conditions in the prison service continue to test and challenge.
A Prisons Week spokesperson said: “HM Chief Inspector of prisons has warned of prisons in decline across all areas. Safety is a serious issue for both staff and prisoners, with a year on year increase in violence, self-harm, deaths and assaults. You are more likely to die in prison now than five years ago.”
“The combined negative impact of overcrowding, longer sentences, reductions in staffing and more ‘lockdown’ time spent in cells, mean that rehabilitation is becoming harder to achieve and that has long term consequences for individuals, families and wider society.”
“Alongside the policy and politics of reforming our prison system, prayer is needed more than ever for the individuals and groups affected by imprisonment and those working with them – so we call on Christians to pray daily during Prisons Week.”
Special services and events will be held throughout the week and across the country, beginning with the broadcast of Sunday Worship on BBC Radio 4 from HMP Long Lartin Worcestershire, on Prisons Sunday 15 November, involving prisoners, chaplains and the Governor. From cathedrals to prison chapels, local churches and small prayer groups meeting in people’s houses, thousands of people will be praying during Prisons Week.
Further information and resources including a downloadable video, prayers and a hymn written by Timothy Dudley-Smith can be found at www.prisonsweek.org/