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Prison and community chaplaincy January 2012

Minutes of the All-Party Penal Affairs Parliamentary Group, held on 24 January 2012 at 5.00 pm in Committee Room 6

Multi-faith prison chaplaincy and community chaplaincy

Speakers from Chaplaincy HQ, National Offender Management Service:

The Revd Canon Michael Kavanagh, Anglican Advisor

Mr Ahtsham Ali, Muslim Advisor


Paul Goggins MP opened the meeting on behalf of Lord Corbett, who remained unwell and had sent his apologies, and Lord Ramsbotham, who had been detained at a previous meeting. The idea for this session had come about when the Archbishop of Canterbury had addressed the group a year ago. He was pleased to introduce the two speakers, Ahtsham Ali, and Michael Kavanagh, taking the place of William Noblett, the Chaplain General, who had recently retired. They were both extremely welcome.

Michael Kavanagh began: ‘I am going to kick off by giving those of you who do not know much about prison chaplaincy a bit of a feel of what an average day for a prison chaplain involves, talk a little bit about community chaplaincy, and then Ahtsham is going to give you a bit of background about the development of multi faith chaplaincy. Hopefully we won’t take too long and that will give us an opportunity for discussion.

Each prison chaplaincy team will be made up of a mix of employed and sessional chaplains reflecting the faith/denominational make up of the prison. Each day one of the number will be assigned as duty chaplain. They are responsible for carrying out some of the key duties within the prison each day. I am a great fan of ‘A Life in the Day of…’ on the back of the Sunday Times. So you’ve got this afternoon a Life in the Day of a Duty Chaplain, who could be of any faith.

Each day the duty chaplain would normally come on with the early shift, with the rest of the staff. It starts very similarly to the way those of you who are guests came into the Houses of Parliament today. You have go through the search tank. You certainly can’t bring any mobiles into prison – that would be a complete no-no. So it starts with all that, and a lot of banter with staff. Sometimes you can be asked to stand for the drugs dog to go past, to make sure you are not trafficking anything to the prison.

One of the most difficult but important pieces of work is that when you arrive you may be notified that a prisoner’s relative has died during the night. It is your job as duty chaplain to go and visit the prisoner and break the bad news. For example one person I was thinking about today was a very senior gang leader in a northern town whose Mum had died. It’s quite a daunting task. You don’t necessarily know the person, and you come with all sorts of preconceptions. You go onto the wing, and visit the wing office, and chat about what you are going to do, and what support the person might need. Then you go into the pad and talk to him, and what you find is a human encounter, where someone is trying to cope with, and deal with, a loss on the inside, when all the family is on the outside. You would often arrange a phone call, and then, if the person is happy as this person was, pray with them and also arrange for their own faith chaplain to visit later in the day. They can provide on-going support and help. Something that we often do is to arrange a time when they could go to chapel and light a candle and pray for the person who has died.

Then you would be back into chaplaincy. The orderlies by that time would be unlocked and coming down, and you would meet with the chaplains who are coming on duty that day. At nine o clock normally there is a meeting with the Governor, and you meet with the other members of staff to talk about any operational issues that have cropped up overnight. That’s often followed by a meeting with the heads of the various wings, where you pool information so that any pastoral concerns are flagged up, and you or one of the other chaplains can be involved in supporting anyone who’s having a difficult time.

Then you are involved in what are called the ‘statutory duties’. I don’t know whether you know that the 1952 Prison Act spelled out very clearly the sort of things a chaplain has to do on a daily basis. Those have been incorporated into the Prison Rules and in the most recent piece of work which provides a framework for chaplaincy, which is the Faith and Pastoral Care Specification. As duty Chaplain you ensure that any relevant issues are notified to the chaplain of the prisoner's particular faith/denomination so that these may be followed up.

The first one is a reception visit, where you will visit each new prisoner into the establishment within 24 hours. They can vary hugely. Sadly some faces are all too familiar, and will come back and back, so it’s just a matter of updating them and giving them a chaplaincy leaflet and that’s it. But for some people that reception visit is hugely important. If someone is coming into a dispersal prison having just received a very long sentence, they will be reeling from the impact of having to serve maybe 20 or 25 years before they can be considered for parole. You can begin to help them to make sense of that. In a local prison you can have people coming in, maybe straight from court, having been told the day before they are going to be a dad and now facing a sentence. There may be huge regret, self- recrimination, and anger. So those reception visits are sometimes very short, or sometimes the beginnings of a long pastoral involvement with that person as they come to terms with what the sentence will bring for them.

Another statutory duty is to visit the healthcare unit. And again for some it’s quite a quick thing – popping in to see someone who is only down there because they are having dental treatment and have to be kept in. But some of the visits are much longer. Two that stand out: an orderly in the healthcare unit who was being diagnosed with manic depression or bi-polar disorder and was coming to terms with that and realising that much of his offending and drug use had been bound up with trying to self-medicate for an illness that was of psychological or psychiatric origin. The anger that he felt was that he had never had any help to try to make sense of that. Another prisoner newly diagnosed with a degenerative condition felt that it was a punishment from God for all the things that he had done. So the healthcare visit is crucial in terms of pastoral support in helping people face really challenging issues in their life.

The Care and Separation Unit – the segregation unit – again involves meeting all the prisoners, but very often it is actually also about supporting the staff in what is a very tense and at times a very difficult environment. I remember one summer visiting the unit when a prisoner was having a dirty protest. This was very difficult for staff - dealing with the difficulties caused by the protest but also recognising the difficulties being faced by the prisoner leading them to undertake such an extreme form of behaviour.

Then there is the discharge visit. Every prisoner before release has the opportunity of seeing a chaplain and that’s one of the ways in which the community chaplaincy is particularly helpful. . If there is a Community Chaplaincy scheme in place a prisoner may work with a mentor who will visit and with whom they will develop a mentoring relationship before they are released. Those 24 hours after someone is released are often crucial as to whether a prisoner y will come back in or whether they will make a go of a new way of life.

That will be pretty much the morning taken up for a duty chaplain, just doing those statutory visits. In the afternoon the chaplaincy can be pretty manic and exciting. You might have in one room a restorative justice meeting going on, perhaps where a group of men are looking at the impact of their offending on victims. You might have a victim of crime coming in, not for a one to one meeting, but to talk to the group about the impact of offending on them, and for the men to understand a bit more closely what impact their behaviour has had. Alongside that there will probably be faith meetings going on from a variety of traditions, and Ahtsham will talk that through. One of the key things is the opportunity to get to know chaplains from across the denominations and faiths, and building a really cohesive team working towards a common goal.

After the men go back to the wing at the end of the afternoon session there is a bit of time to write reports. Chaplains will also contribute to sentence planning reports, to parole reports, and a variety of reports on prisoners some of whom as chaplain you get to know very well, both from general things and also from coming to services. In the evening session you often have volunteers coming in to support the work. Overall we think there are about 7,000 volunteers who come into prisons through the chaplaincy, providing everything from helping to run a hand-bell group through to faith specific meetings, through to more cultural events. That’s a real opportunity to form links with the local community.

The day as a duty chaplain would end with filling in the chaplain’s log, which is a legal document, which has to take account of all the people who’ve been seen and ensuring that the statutory duties have been complete. Then you have to make sure that nothing’s been taken away from chaplaincy. You have to do a ‘tool check’ at the very end. Then you go out. Going out is a little bit easier that going in, unless you get what’s called a blue tally, which means that you’ve got to have an exit search to make sure you are not trafficking anything out. And mostly when you’ve been duty chaplain, and you’ve been in for twelve hours, the last thing you want is a blue tally, because the ‘Life in the Day ..’ needs to end by you going home to have a cup of tea and a good sit down!’

Paul Goggins MP thanked Michael Kavanagh very much indeed and introduced the next speaker.

Ahtsham Ali began: ‘Just to give you a broad picture, we have 144 prisons in England and Wales and every prison has within it a chaplaincy team. The team will have a Coordinating Chaplain, who manages it. The size of the prison will determine the size of the chaplaincy team, and also the religious make-up of the prisoner population will determine the number of chaplains from each faith. I will read from the Prison Service Instruction. The first item says that ‘chaplaincy provision must reflect the faith denomination requirements of the prison’. That’s quite a major shift. If you go back just over a decade, all the employed chaplains within the Prison Service were Christian, mainly Anglican and some Roman Catholic. All that changed about a decade ago. Prior to that you would have had sessional chaplains, who were called visiting ministers, who would come in for a few hours and would be paid piece rates. But from about a decade ago the Prison Service started employing chaplains from other faiths.

The ones this affected most were Muslim chaplains, because unfortunately we have quite a few Muslim prisoners. At the moment the prison population is about 86,000, and we have about 10,600 Muslim prisoners, which is about 12.8% of the population. There are many factors behind that. One is the number of prisoners who convert inside, another is the number of foreign nationals we have, and the last is the fact that the majority of prisoners are young combined with the fact that 50% of the UK Muslim community is below 25 years of age, but also I think another factor is the ease of drug use and abuse among certain communities. I used to be a youth worker in the north of England prior to this job, so I saw from first-hand the effects of that.

So we have a team which is diverse: you have Muslim chaplains, Christian chaplains- including Free Church, Roman Catholic, Anglican - you have Jewish chaplains, Pagan chaplains, Rastafarian chaplains: you name it, we’ve got it. It’s determined by need so the numbers will dictate. But the provision and the right is there for any prisoner of whatever faith, to have access to the facilities and resources to allow them to practice their faith. We have recently had a few conferences where we have looked at how other countries manage their extremist prisoners, and we’ve had people from Jordan, Lebanon, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Saudi, and Pxakistan, and when we compare our facilities and our resources, and the basic principles we adhere to in this country, it’s remarkable. Nobody else has it. The fact that it is a basic right, if you go to prison, that part of the makeup of the way you are looked after will be your religious rights, your right to practice your faith, a recognition that faith plays an important part in someone’s life and can be used, God willing, in a good way.

I’ve been to France, Spain and Denmark, and you see quite strong differences. When you go to prison in France it’s illegal to ask somebody what religion they are. I met my counterpart in one of the French jails and I asked him how many Muslim prisoners there were in his prison and he said he had no idea. ‘There’s no way of checking, but I think it’s about 1,800’. That’s a huge number for one prison. So I asked how he got to that number and he said he added all the Alis, Husseins, and so on by surname, and that’s how he determined it!

I was part of a visit to a Madrid prison, where they had the Madrid bombers, and when the prison governor, not realising I was part of the Prison Service delegation and I was involved in chaplaincy, was asked by one of our security governors ‘Do you not have Imams coming in to look after the religious rights of the Muslim prisoners?’ he answered, ‘No, no we do not trust Imams in this country.’ I think it’s different here because for 50 or 60 years we have had a significant Muslim presence in this country.

So the team make-up is very good, there is brilliant camaraderie and they support each other in the statutory duties. Things have changed. When I came into post, I looked at the minutes of the previous four or five years to get an assessment of how things were, and you’d get prisons asking ‘The Eid festival for this month, how do we facilitate that?’ And the answer was ‘there is no Eid for this month.’ ‘Don’t you have twelve Eids in the year?’ ‘No we don’t.’ ‘Oh my goodness what have we been celebrating?’ The prisoners had been telling the governor that there was one every month. Those days have passed, but I did read in one of the minutes a governor asking the Muslim Advisor before me: ‘We’ve managed to source halal chicken but how do we get halal pork?’

I had worked as a youth worker, and I’d worked with ex-offenders, trying to resettle them in their communities. But when I started, I had a totally naïve view of prisons. I remember my first week in Armley, when I was on induction with the Muslim chaplain, I saw a young man, about 20 years old, who came after Friday prayers and said he wanted to speak to the Imam. He broke down in tears, and said he just couldn’t cope. ‘Could you please have a word with my cell mate?’ They share two to a cell and there is no privacy. ‘Every time I go to the toilet he switches off the TV and leans over and I have to put a newspaper around me.’ Such basic things that you don’t think of: lack of privacy and lack of personal space. Things that we take for granted are not there. This dispelled from my mind the picture we get in the media that it’s ‘a cushy number’. It’s quite a harrowing experience, and more harrowing depending on which prison you go to.

The first issue I had to deal with, in my naivety, was when Phil Wheatley, the Director General at the time, sent me down to Channings Wood. They had had a sit down protest after Friday prayers and the men refused to move, because the coffee whitener contained an ingredient, an E number, which could have been derived from non-halal beef or whatever. So I sat down, and they gave me some paperwork, and I went in and there were these 25 men sitting there refusing to get up. I just laid into them, which was not the appropriate thing to do maybe, because I couldn’t grasp it. Hang on, you’re in for murder, you’re in for rape, you’re in for burglary and you’re worried about whether an E number in a coffee whitener is compatible with Islam? Come on, get real! But that just shows you how nuanced things can become in a closed environment. Little things can become a big thing.

We have a council called the Chaplaincy Council made up of all the different Faith Advisers in the Prison Service and we meet every two months, and one of the primary roles is to endorse a chaplain going in to prison. If a Buddhist chaplain is being appointed a prison can’t say: ‘We’ll have Fred: he’s a brilliant Buddhist. I know him.’ He has to go through the Buddhist Adviser who checks his credentials and makes sure he’s good. This is quite important from an Islamic view because we don’t have a hierarchy, a sense of ordination. There’s no structure in that sense. We have to make sure that all the different routes to becoming an Imam are cross checked, that it’s not just somebody off the street. That’s part of our function.

I’ve been in post for about seven and a half, eight years. About five years ago the issue of extremism became a bigger part of my workload, as we have had more terrorist offence related prisoners in, and also as we have got a greater sense of prisoners going towards extremist ideas. We now have 209 Muslim chaplains, of whom about 108, roughly, are employed. When I started it was about 16. So that means that nearly every prison has facilities and resources available to counter whatever needs to be countered’.

Paul Goggins MP then asked Michael Kavanagh if he would like to say something about community chaplaincy.

Michael Kavanagh began: ‘There are a number of community chaplaincy projects across the country. In 2010 they numbered 18. The shape of them varies quite a lot because they tend to be funded by various forms of local trust. So the Swansea Community Chaplaincy may look a bit different from the one associated with Low Newton for example. Their main work ends to be ‘through the gate’ in terms of providing mentoring and support in a variety of ways to people as they are making the journey out.

There is an umbrella body called the Community Chaplaincy Association, which provides some common trained support, and now recording facilities, so that community chaplaincies can record the sort of contacts that they had. During 2010 1,354 ex-prisoners were supported through community chaplaincy teams, which had 50 paid staff and about 500 volunteers. So it’s a really significant resource in various parts of the country and the Community Chaplaincy Association is trying to develop and encourage that in a variety of ways. Some community chaplaincies can be particularly faith based, some are more open to people from a variety of faith backgrounds. Some mentors will recruit from one particular faith community and some from a variety of faith communities. So the texture varies according to context. But the key thing is this idea of support through the gate.

Certainly when I was chaplain for Full Sutton, before I went out to talk to groups like the Mothers Union to recruit them to be prison visitors I used to say to my congregation ‘What do you want me to say? What is the key message you want to get out there?’ And they said again and again ‘We need help being resettled’. That transition from prison is difficult, whether you’ve been in and out and in and out, and have never really built a settled life, or you’ve been in for many years so you are basically institutionalised, the idea of going out into this world that’s changed so much is completely scary. It was that help and support that they said again and again is crucial. One of the options in the new specification for faith and pastoral care is the post of resettlement chaplain. Some prisons want to develop that as an employed post, as a complement for a good community chaplaincy.’