Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN), the agency for domestic social action of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, held a one-day seminar at Allen Hall Seminary on September 21 to deepen debate, inform policy and initiate action around criminal justice.
Speakers included Mgr Malachy Keegan, prisons adviser to the bishops’ conference, Neil Jameson from Citizens UK, Linda Maytum-Wilson from Anchor House, Paul O’Shea, a London sixth-form college principal, and Mike Nellis, professor and expert in criminal and community justice, together with theologians, academics, commentators and those engaged in the criminal justice system or affected by crime.
This month there were 87,744 people in prison in England and Wales, at an average cost per place of at least £45,000. This equates to 152 people per 100,000 population in prison, as compared to 85 per 100,000 in Germany and 102 in France.
Policy debate about crime and criminal justice in England and Wales is now entering a new phase, with fresh challenges and opportunities for the Catholic Church. Last December the Government launched Breaking the Cycle, a consultation document that proposed a major shift in Government policy towards focusing investment on the effective rehabilitation of offenders. The consultation attracted more than 1,200 responses, including from the CSAN membership. The Government’s Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill 2010-11 is currently passing through Parliament.
Meanwhile, the Prison Reform Trust found in a recent poll that nine out of 10 people also backed the idea of restorative justice, where offenders are encouraged to repair the harm they have done – a key part of Secretary of State for Justice Kenneth Clarke’s “rehabilitation revolution”.
The seminal document for the bishops’ conference’s thinking about restorative justice is A Place of Redemption.
The seminar was part of the CSAN’s Criminal Justice Project, funded by the Plater Trust with the overall aims of deepening debate, informing Church and governmental criminal justice policy and initiating action, within principles of restorative justice.
CSAN has a strong background in social action around criminal justice, with several member organisations working alongside offenders, ex-offenders and their families both inside and outside prisons.