We might only be only 3 months into the new year but there is so much going on and so many things to update you on. We have just sent out our March news update, which if you didn’t receive you can read on our website, with so many encouraging stories of work with prisoners and ex-offenders across the UK, so I thought I would use my next blog post to fill you in on some of those as well.
2011 was a busy year for Daylight. The staff and volunteer teams across the country worked hard to expand our work so that we could reach more prisoners with the Gospel of Christ and could be better placed to provide the essential post-release support that ex-offenders need when they try to settle back into a local community. God was so good in providing for all of our needs and 2011 was another record year for Daylight, both in terms of the amount of money supporters donated and the number of people we worked with. We were overwhelmed by the amount of volunteer time offered by people wanting to write to a prisoner to offer encouragement during their sentence, or wanting to support an ex-offender trying to adjust to life outside of prison. We now have 14 Prayer and Support Groups which are helping to achieve this and we want to say a huge thank you to all of our volunteers who make this work possible.
Looking ahead to this year, there are lots of opportunities for us. We are working in partnership with another Christian organisation, Rock UK. We are working to secure funding for, initially, 3 ex-offenders from prisons in the southeast to participate in Rock UK’s School of Adventure Training which will help improve their skills, train them in leadership and provide accredited qualifications. Completion of this course will dramatically improve their chances of gaining future employment. When we think that 50% of prisoners lack the basic skills needed for 96% of jobs, courses like this are crucial to help vulnerable people who are likely to end up back in prison without support.
We are also working in partnership with a local organisation in Colchester, called Out4Good, which provides housing, mentoring support and purposeful activities to young male ex-offenders so that they are given a stepping stone after prison to turn their lives around. Daylight is excited at the prospect of working with Out4Good and seeing more individuals reach their potential and break the cycle of offending.
Daylight is also very excited about our two new members of staff. David Lewis joins our team as Regional Director for Wales and the Southwest and will be responsible for coordinating Daylight’s work in this region so that prisoners can be referred to our local Prayer and Support Groups and so prisoners can be supported during their sentence and given the opportunity to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. To help David in his role, we have a new regional intern, Lindsay Dale, who is based in Bristol and helping Daylight in its training of volunteers as well as more hands-on work with young offenders and ex-offenders through local church projects.
These are just some of the highlights of our year so far and there are many more that I could write about. This morning I read an article in a newspaper which outlined once again, the problem of overcrowding in our prison system. As budget cuts continue to be felt throughout Whitehall and as this puts pressure on staff numbers and time, the chance for rehabilitation during a prison sentence might well get squeezed out. Reading articles like that reminds me that the work of organisations like Daylight, is crucial to not only sharing the good news of Christ, but demonstrating it as we practically provide for those who are released from prison facing many difficulties and barriers. Those we work with are not just another statistic, but they are someone’s son, father, uncle, cousin, mother, daughter. We need to work hard to help meet their needs and make sure that when they step through the prison gate on the day of their release, they never go back through it.
Thank you for joining us in this vital work and for your ongoing support. We couldn’t do it without you.
This Christmas there are 94,000 prisoners who will experience a very different Christmas to the one that we will. Whilst we celebrate with friends and family and remember the good news of the Christmas story, many prisoners will feel lonely as they are separated from their families and struggle to cope with Christmas behind bars. Christmas highlights to them the guilt of their crime, the monotony of prison life and the hopelessness that they feel. Celebrating at Christmas is often a long way from a prisoner’s mind and with many prison officers on holiday, prisoners may be locked up for longer in their cells so that Christmas Day feels anything but a special time of year. Stephen James, part of Daylight’s prison team in Wales and an ex-offender remembers of his time inside at Christmas, ‘Christmas can bring tears to the hardest man inside. I thought the quicker this time of year is over the better’.
But the exciting thing is that for some prisoners, Christmas is still a time to celebrate as they remember and give thanks to God for using their time inside to show them the real meaning of the Christmas period. Prisoners who have found new life through Christ will be celebrating this Christmas inside prison cells, on prison wings and in prison Chapels across the UK as they thank God for showing them change from the inside out through the good news of the Gospel. The unseen efforts of prison chaplains to help prisoners celebrate their faith are often overlooked. So this Christmas, Daylight’s supporters are sending their Christmas messages and prayers to prison chaplains across the UK to remind them that their work is vital in sharing the Christian faith with an often forgotten group of people. Their work also lays a foundation for local churches into which ex-offenders integrate after their release.
Here at Daylight this Christmas, we want to remind prison chaplains that their commitment and their sacrifice at Christmas – when they give up time with their families to help prisoners celebrate the birth of their King – is so important to prisoners who look back on their time inside as the time when God showed them how they could be truly forgiven and given a new start in life. Daylight’s work with prison chaplains is a great opportunity to see change from the inside out and we’re calling upon our supporters to help this happen this Christmas. We could not do the work that we do with prisoners during their sentence if it was not for prison chaplains.
This Christmas, please pray for Daylight’s prison team which will be visiting prisoners across the UK and will be working with prison chaplains to run with chapel activities in the run-up to Christmas so that prisoners can be reminded of the true meaning of the festive season. And particularly pray for prison chaplains who will be working on Christmas Day bringing the Christmas message to the UKs prisons.
If you want to send a message of encouragement to a prison chaplain this Christmas then email the Daylight office: firstname.lastname@example.org
On Sunday 20th November, it is Prisoners’ Sunday which is a day when churches and Christians across the country will join together to remember prisoners, their families, ex-offenders and organisations that work with these people to help them rebuild their lives.
As Christians we know that it is God who works to bring real change from the inside out in an individual and so Prisoners’ Sunday reminds us of our need to pray that God would work a miracle in the hearts of those we work with, and would bring lasting change so that they no longer offend. We also know that we are called to practically demonstrate God’s love to those we come into contact with and for Daylight, that is prisoners, their families and ex-offenders. Please pray for Daylight’s volunteers who will be working with these groups of people to provide practical support to help individuals rebuild their lives.
As you will have heard us talk about before, the UK has one of the largest prison populations in Western Europe with nearly 94,000 people inside, and in the aftermath of this summer’s riots which saw nearly 3,000 people arrested in London alone, the issue of criminal justice is firmly back on the political agenda. It has the attention of ministers, Governments, charities and people wanting to see less crime in their local community. Ministers and police officers have talked about ‘Broken Britain’, ‘the feral underclass’, and decade-long social problems exploding in our faces but on 20th November, Christians are being called to action to pray for those serving sentences behind bars across the country, and for their families who often bear the brunt of having a family member in prison.
In response to this need, Daylight is working with prisoners during their sentence and is providing practical support to ex-offenders upon release, including accommodation, ‘at the gate’ parcels of food and clothing, transport to accommodation and probation appointments, support in completing benefits forms, and help to access local service providers for drug and alcohol rehabilitation. This Prisoners’ Sunday we are asking you, our supporters, to pray for those behind bars in our country and particularly for those nearing release. As Christians we want to see people’s lives completely transformed from the inside out as they realise who God is and see His work in their lives’.
Let me tell you the story of one individual that we have worked with who demonstrates the amazing work that God can do in someone’s life to transform their hearts and how they live:
Inside at 50 but not giving up
George has been in prison for over 25 years serving a life sentence. When Daylight’s prison team met him for the first time he appeared lifeless, gaunt, desperate and disengaged. He was alone inside and had no-one who cared for him on the outside. George is turning 50 shortly but looking at him, he has nothing to celebrate. Daylight’s prison team tried to engage George in conversation and talk to him about his time inside, but although he kept coming along to the prison Chapel each week, he spoke very little. But as time went on, Daylight’s prison team began to see a change in George. He started to open up to those who visited him, he started talking about the Christian faith, and even managed a smile. After one chapel service, Phil, a member of the Daylight team spoke to George and talked about what he had been reading in his Bible from Joel where God says, ‘I will restore the years that the locust has eaten’. Excited and looking Phil in the face for the first time George exclaimed, ‘That’s amazing! I feel that He already has’. Despite having spent half his life behind bars, George knows what it means to be given new life. He might be turning 50 soon but he is not giving up. George now has hope for his future where he thought there was none, and purpose for each day.
Gillian Pegler, one of Daylight’s prison team in Wales, sums up the importance of praying this Prisoners’ Sunday: ‘Nothing happens if we don’t pray! If we try and do this work in our own strength, without God, then maybe we’ll do some good stuff, but we won’t be doing God’s stuff – we’ll be working on one cylinder when there is all the power of heaven at our fingertips if only we would pray!! God is really excited about the work He’s doing with prisoners. He would really like us to be involved with it. And for you, maybe that means joining the army of pray-ers this Prisoners’ Sunday’.
What were the real causes of the riots last month?
In the continuing aftermath of last month’s riots, which saw most of us glued to our television screens in absolute horror as we saw shops looted, homes burnt and streets in chaos, the debate about what should happen to those responsible for the unrest goes on. With the Prime Minister claiming it has nothing to do with poverty but rather with Britain’s broken society, the Justice Secretary calling for tougher sentences to ensure the perpetrators are brought to justice, and some campaigners arguing that those involved are being used as political pawns in a bigger argument, the way forward remains unclear.
Writing in the Guardian today, Justice Secretary Ken Clarke admitted that he was shocked to his core as he watched the riot scenes unfold across the country. He also revealed that 75% of the rioters had previous criminal convictions which, in his opinion, reveals a failure of the Criminal Justice System to prevent reoffending. Commending the police and court services for their commitment during the rioting, particularly for the overtime they put in to police the streets, keep courts open all night and clear the backlog of court cases for those arrested, he also reiterated the praise that should be due to the independent judiciary who have handed out sentences to make sure that those responsible for ruining homes and livelihoods are made to pay for their crimes. The sentences passed for some of the rioters have been the subject of much debate, but regardless of what one thinks of sentencing responses, the riots have uncovered bigger causes of crime which need to be addressed. In his article in the Guardian, Clarke argues that there is a ‘feral underclass’ which is cut off from the rest of society except in its materialism, responsible for this criminality whose values need to be realigned with society at large.
For the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), this means refocusing upon the need to reduce reoffending. Had the 75% of those with previous criminal records convicted of the riots been properly rehabilitated during their first sentence inside a prison, they arguably would not have been involved with the disturbances that shook communities. Since becoming Justice Secretary, Clarke has been committed to ensuring that offenders are brought to justice using sentences that are most likely to rehabilitate and reduce reoffending, which for some means tougher community sentences instead of custodial sentences. Clarke has reiterated his commitment to making prisons places of hard work so that offenders are prepared for the outside while they are in prison, robustly addressing the drug culture that infects the prison system, and making community sentences tougher so that the public accept them as appropriate punishments rather than merely a soft option to reduce spending and prison numbers. To deliver these changes, the MOJ is engaging community and voluntary organisations, as well as the private sector, as partners which will be paid according to their results for reducing reoffending rates of those they work with.
Clarke also argues that not only does the way prisons work need to change, but post-release support to make sure that ex-offenders have a job, a home, and a strong family network is key to reducing reoffending. To tackle these root causes of crime, according to Clarke, it requires the whole of Whitehall to not only tackle the economic deficit but the social deficit responsible for the anarchy seen on our streets over the summer.
Ken Clarke is absolutely right that to really address the causes of the riots, we need to look at the history of those responsible. If three quarters of the perpetrators have a previous criminal record then it reveals a severe problem within the criminal justice system to rehabilitate offenders. Past punishments have clearly failed to help an ex-offender turn their life around – there needs to be a renewed focus upon reducing reoffending so that ex-offenders can rebuild their lives and make a positive contribution to society. This includes rebuilding a family network, finding work to increase independence and self esteem, tackling addictions, and finding a home. Without this post-release support, many will continue to fall through the net and end up back on the conveyor belt to crime. Daylight’s work with ex-offenders aims to address this as our volunteers meet ex-offenders at the prison gate, help them find a home, provide help for completing benefits forms and job applications, support them as they re-establish family connections if possible, and help them access local service providers to tackle addictions or health problems. We welcome the MOJ’s renewed commitment to address the problem of reoffending but there is a lot of work to do and there needs to be a culture change across Whitehall reflecting this commitment so that whilst those who commit crimes should be punished through the courts, sentences are used to rehabilitate over the long-term rather than meet short-term political objectives.
The Ministry of Justice has announced that in a move to make community sentences tougher, offenders subjected to curfews could spend up to double the amount of time in their homes. The new proposals are part of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill. Curfews will be increased from 12 to 16 hours per day and can be imposed for as long as twelve months instead of the current six. Prison Minister, Crispin Blunt, argues that this move will help bring order to chaotic lives to reduce the likelihood of reoffending for those subject to the punishments whilst ensuring that communities are properly protected.
As the Ministry of Justice faces extensive budget cuts and changes in policy to focus upon the need to tackle re-offending, the extension of curfew orders will help reduce the prison population and contribute towards the significant savings that the MOJ needs to make. Crispin Blunt argues that the changes to curfew orders will produce tougher community sentences so that offenders are stopped from socialising in the evenings or causing trouble for local communities, whilst providing meaningful punishment so that offenders can break the cycle of crime and address the root causes of their criminal behaviour.
The courts will be able to tailor a sentence around when an offender is working and when it is deemed necessary to prevent them from being out of their home. At any one time, there are currently 24,000 offenders being monitored through the electronic tagging system. If they break the conditions of their license, including curfews, they will be recalled to prison.
The new policy has been met with mixed reaction. Some groups have argued that this is merely another cost-cutting measure aimed at helping Ken Clarke meet his target of reducing the prison population by 3,500. Ken Clarke has faced much criticism over the last few months of being soft when it comes to punishing offenders. But the MOJ has argued that these proposals are a more effective way of punishing offenders and rehabilitating those who would have previously served a short-sentence inside with no rehabilitative input at all.
There is a need to reduce the number of prisoners serving short custodial sentences because they are ineffective in addressing the root causes of crime and often do nothing to prevent future re-offending. The changes to curfews as part of more effective community sentences is a welcome step forward in beginning to tackle the issue of re-offending. However, curfews are only one part of the picture and need to be accompanied by opportunities for education, training and acquiring new skills, as well as ongoing mentoring to ensure that community sentences address the causes of criminal behaviour and help ex-offenders rebuild their life so that they can break the cycle of crime. Changes to curfews alone might offer financial savings initially, but unless they are part of a more holistic package which seeks to rehabilitate offenders, they will do little to address the £11 billion cost incurred through re-offending each year.
Let’s keep praying for those in positions of leadership who have to make decisions regarding the criminal justice system and how best to address its problems. Pray that we would all remember each individual behind every cell door as we seek to meet their needs.
Daylight’s Regional Coordinator for East Anglia, Paul, has been working with David…here’s his story:
David is 44 years old and has spent 12 years of his life in prison serving sentences for drug possession and dealing. Four months ago I met David when he was at an all-time low in his life. He had lost all sense of hope and could not look to the future. After seeing him in such a state, I sent him a Bible as a gift and suggested some Bible verses which he might find helpful as he struggled to cope with life. I promised to visit him the next month, which i did, and got the biggest surprise when I saw him again. David had smartened himself up, he was much more positive about life and was even looking forward to his release and the opportunities he would have to turn his life around once he was back on the outside. He also told me that he had started to read the Bible that I sent him and began attending the prison chapel services on a regular basis. Through what he read and heard, David realised the truth about Jesus Christ and has turned to him as his saving king. David is growing in his faith as he serves out the remainder of his sentence and is looking forward to learning what it means to live for Christ on the outside when he is released.
David’s story was a reminder to me of why I do my job. He is a reminder that the Gospel of Christ can save even the most unlikely of people, like David. Through Christ David knows his past is forgiven, his life has purpose, and his future is secure.
Thank you for supporting Daylight’s work so that I can continue working with people like David and see God build his church behind bars across our country.
Dillon wandered through the gates of a prison in the northeast of England. I’d been told he would be released at 9am, but as is usual for release times, he was late. I sat in the car not knowing whether or not he would come out, but eventually those being released on that Monday morning began to trickle through the gates. Some were met by relatives, some by dubious looking friends, and some by no-one at all. This was the first time I had met Dillon but as soon as he climbed into my car, he said he didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. With a five hour car journey together, I had lots of time to hear Dillon’s story and it is one of the most encouraging I have heard from those that we have helped through Daylight.
Dillon had faced alcohol problems earlier in his life but with the help of Teen Challenge, a Christian organisation which helps individuals tackle addiction, he managed to get the problem under control and after becoming a Christian, got involved with full-time Christian ministry. But tragedy hit his family a few years later when his only child died, and he turned once again to alcohol to help him cope with his loss. He turned his back on God and fell into a spiral of drinking. One night when things hit rock bottom, Dillon got involved into a drunken fight which led to his arrest and soon he found himself in a prison cell miles away from home and alone.
But as Dillon looks back on his time inside, he realises that God used it to bring him back to the Gospel. During his sentence, Dillon attended chapel services, started reading the Bible again and grew in his faith. It might have been hard, but for Dillon, his prison sentence saved him from a life of hopelessness.
Dillon told me about the conversations he had with other prisoners on the morning of his release. They all wanted to know what he was planning on eating for his first meal on the outside. The only thing Dillon wanted was KFC. I could not quite believe that something that we take so much for granted was the one thing Dillon was longing for. I have never seen someone enjoy a meal so much. He savoured every mouthful. He also recalled how smelling the fresh flowers in the chapel each week had become a lifeline to him as a reminder of what the outside world was like.
I dropped Dillon at his temporary accommodation where he is beginning to tackle the issues related to his alcohol problem. He is attending a local church, is in touch with Daylight’s support group in his region, and has been reconnected with his wife. He knows that readjusting to life on the outside will be difficult, but Dillon is trusting in Christ for the power to change and is being supported by Christians to make sure he never sets foot inside a prison cell again. Dillon was overwhelmed with the support shown to him through Daylight, from people like you. It is because of your support that Daylight is able to help people like Dillon piece their lives together again after release. Thank you from Dillon, and the whole Daylight team, for your ongoing support.