“Faith-based” Prison Proposed in Great Britain


For HumanistNetworkNews.org
Nov. 18, 2009

(Editor's Note: The promotion of "faith-based" prisons is occurring in the U.S. today as well.  Click on this link  to read an article in the Tulsa World by World Religion Reporter Bill Sherman about a proposal for an "all-Christian" prison in Oklahoma. HNN will be providing more coverage of this important issue in future editions.)

The creation of the first prison in Britain that would be run by a religious group is currently being debated. The Carpenter's House Project, which is being proposed by the Kainos Christian Community, could be up and running in Cornwall, England by 2012, if the group's ambitions are realized.

Those behind the plans claim they can cut re-offending rates and help the government provide much-needed space for prisoners (the Ministry of Justice says it needs another 12,000 prison spaces by 2014).

Mike Critchley, the project's chairman, told the Plymouth Herald, "It is an ambitious project but the need is massive. We've talked to a lot of people, and our consultant has been the governor of five prisons. What we're talking about is not a bible college. It's all about giving guys the ability to respect themselves. Once they've got that, it gets you to respect other people."

Kainos Community is a religious charity that has operated its Challenge to Change program in prisons for 12 years. It is now receiving public funding to push its religious agenda in three prisons. It claims to have slashed re-offending rates among prisoners it has worked with to 13 percent-way below the national average of 60 percent-within two years of release.

However, those who carried out the research say that their figures should be treated with caution since no comparison with the general prison population was used. Moreover, previous independent research that did use comparisons with the general prison population showed that the program made no significant difference to re-offending rates.

Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, said: "Kainos obviously seeks to open a private prison, which it apparently hopes will eventually be funded by the tax payer. We hope that the Prison Service will not entertain such an idea. With the increasing number of prisoners from other religions, it would be divisive and dangerous to introduce a prison with a particular religious ethos."

Although Kainos says it takes people of all faiths and none, it is explicitly and heavily Christian in nature.

Those concerned about this should read a 2001 Home Office report about Kainos (pdf), says Wood. "Major problems are dressed up as opportunities for improvement, but there is plenty here to be concerned about. Effectively these religious wings or prisons become self-policing units, saving the Home Office money–hence the appeal, and the danger."

Kainos leaders are now trying to raise cash to provide the government with a feasibility study in order to formally lodge its proposals by next year.

An HM Prison Service spokesman confirmed that the National Offender Management Service, which runs prisons in England and Wales for the Ministry of Justice, was aware of the Carpenter's House project, but said it had "no current plans" to build faith-specific prisons.

(Terry Sanderson is the president of the National Secular Society (U.K.). He is also the editor of the weekly NSS Newsline, in which this article first appeared on Nov. 13, 2009. This article is republished by permission of the NSS.)