Many offenders who come to faith whilst in prison leave determined to follow the right path, but what support is available for them in the outside world? A new type of ministry is being envisioned in the Diocese of Liverpool to help solve this challenge.
Caring for Ex-Offenders is a national charity, encouraging faith communities to work closely with agencies to provide an integrated system of support for ex-offenders who want to continue in their faith. Led locally by the Diocese of Liverpool, the ministry helps people of all religions become re-integrated into their faith communities.
Members of a faith community involved in this ministry each take a role in helping the ex-offender, from providing pastoral support to debt and employment advice. Those in the group will know everything about that person's past, allowing them to make informed decisions as to how they can be supported and assimilated into the community.
The prison chaplain or another authorised person also makes contact with the faith community prior to release, allowing them to build up a relationship before that person enters their community.
"Perhaps one of the most powerful statements of this ministry is that the ex-offender is met at the prison gates by someone from their new place of worship,"
says Rev John Sephton, who is leading the initiative in the Diocese. "Ex-offenders who have come to faith can leave with the very best of intentions, but, if their old friends or associates are all they have, it can undo all of the breakthroughs they had made. Having someone there from their new faith community signifies a completely new start for them in the outside world. They are not alone."
This ministry also focuses heavily on protecting the faith community as well as the ex-offender. Upon joining their new place of worship, the ex-offender is asked to sign a behaviour contract which can also cover the contact they can have with certain groups of people. Even if a faith community has this ministry in place but feels that the person is not suitable, they are free to refuse.
"The idea is to provide a structure and as much formal support to the faith community as possible,"
adds John. "In the past, ex-offenders may have attended a place of worship and nobody in that community knew their background and the issues they faced. Alternatively, if someone did know about that person, they would try and provide that support on their own. Now, we can support both the ex-offender and ensure that the faith community is robustly safeguarded."
John spent six years as Assistant Chaplain at HMP Risley, where he saw first-hand the obstacles faced by prisoners who wanted to continue in their faith after release. "As Prison Chaplains, we had no contact with prisoners once they left the prison gates. This ministry ensures that that support continues after release, with the hope that that person can take their rightful place back in society."
Contact John directly about any aspect of this ministry:Johnsephton@postmaster.co.uk
For more details see www.liverpool.anglican.org/prisonministry