Quakers (or ‘Friends’ as they are often referred to), persecuted and imprisoned in their thousands for their religion in the early days, have always had a special concern for the criminal justice system. In Britain Yearly Meeting (the organisational body of Quakers in Britain) this continues today with the work of its Crime and Community Justice Group and the Quaker Prison Ministry Group.
Quaker Prison Ministers
About 100 of Britain’s 150 prisons have Quaker prison ministers who bring spiritual support and counselling to prisoners. Many other Quakers act as prison visitors, without a religious dimension. The Quaker Prison Ministry Group, helped by one member of BYM staff, supports ministers with telephone advice, a handbook, directory and a yearly conference to bring them together. This year’s conference will include Quaker prison psychiatrist Bob Johnson who will speak on ‘addiction among prisoners: managing emotional pain’.
Work with sex-offenders
This year the Crime and Community Justice Group (CCJG) is beginning a joint scheme for released sex-offenders with the police and probation service in the Thames Valley area. Called ‘Circles of Support and Accountability’, the scheme involves, among other things, round-the-clock ‘encircling’ support of the released offender on his return to the community. In Canada, where the scheme originated, it has reduced re-offending and is as much a protection to the community as rehabilitation of the offender. The Home Office is funding the Group with £100,000 to carry out this particular work. New offices have just been rented.
Representatives of the Group have met with spokespeople from the three main political parties to discuss issues such as women in prison, young offenders, prison overcrowding and restorative justice. They recently made a submission to government on the Auld Report.
Community Justice Groups
CCJG encourages and helps Friends to form local Community Justice Groups, which bring together Friends for mutual support and joint action. There are currently about six of these groups, mainly run at monthly meeting level.
Working with others
The Group is actively involved with both the influential Penal Affairs Consortium and the Restorative Justice Consortium. It also has close links with Quakers in Criminal Justice, an active informal network of Quakers involved in the criminal justice system. It is also part of the Churches Criminal Justice Forum and Interfaith Criminal Justice Forum. An important new initiative which the Forums are introducing is ‘community chaplaincy’, which will extend the work of the prison chaplaincy to support prisoners after they leave prison.