Inside and Outside – People and Prisons
On 6th December 2014 we hosted a national conference in Newcastle Civic Centre to explore how the Church can best support people in prison, and those newly released from prison. Paul Southgate, Director of VIP chairing the event, quoted a newspaper article from 1879 which expressed the same concerns and issues surrounding prisons and offenders, and he called this conference “but a short phrase in a long conversation”. Juliet Lyon, Director of Prison Reform Trust and the key speaker, noted that the number of prisoners had doubled in the last 20 years. Prison, she said, should be a place of last resort. Prison is sometimes necessary but often needless; therefore aim to deprive of their liberty as few people as possible. Fr Chris Hughes from Church Action on Poverty which co-hosted the conference, offering a theological perspective, said that we should be a voice within our churches: prophetic and visionary, critical but creative. Matthew Devlin, Chair of Community Chaplaincy Association which works especially with those newly released, spoke of the need to be practical and non-judgemental while nurturing trust and companionship. Community chaplains, he asserted, need more support from the churches. Fr Gerry McFlynn, speaking from the Irish Chaplaincy, made a plea for more volunteer prison visitors. Volodymir Bocharov, an activist from Ukraine who travelled here to take part in the conference, shared his observations on the changes taking place at home resulting in fewer prisoners. The presence of our 4 Ukrainians friends among the 60 participants made it an Inter-national conference!