Prisons Sunday

Worship resources for Prisons Sunday  

Listen to an interview with Alan Ogier,  Chaplain to the Prison Service

Prisons Sunday is now the second Sunday in October and Prisons Week continues throughout the week until the following Saturday. An ecumenical Prisons Week Committee was formed in 1975 to encourage Christians to focus their thoughts and prayers, upon prisoners and their families, victims of offenders, prison staff and all those working for prisoners and their families.

PrisonThe Committee publishes an information and prayer leaflet which is distributed to all who are planned to lead worship on Prisons Sunday. You can visit the Prisons Week website on for additional materials including prayers, posters, worship resources and books.


At Reception

Prison ChaplainOften prisoners come into prison with many concerns about home and family. They have fears about whether they can survive prison or if there is any future for them when they are eventually released.

Many prisoners come from disadvantaged and debilitating backgrounds. Given the deep needs of many of those being received into prison today, chaplaincy teams are committed to offering support to prisoners throughout their time in custody, and upon release.

Pastoral Care for Prisoners

Throughout the time a prisoner is in custody the chaplain will offer pastoral care to all who are in need, particularly at times of bereavement or personal distress; these will include prisoners who for various reasons feel vulnerable or suicidal. Chaplains visit all new receptions, usually within 24 hours of their arrival, and also make daily visits to the health-care and segregation units.

Pastoral Care for Staff

Pastoral care is also extended to all members of staff. The work of the prison officer is demanding at every level and chaplains are committed to caring for staff and officers especially during times of stress.


At the heart of the Chaplain's ministry is worship. Chapel services are often well attended, sometimes by men and women who have never previously attended church. The sanctuary of the chapel, combined with the devotion of liturgy and prayer offers a respite from the rigours of prison.

In some ways the chapel stands apart from all other places within the establishment as a place of hope in the midst of despair, of forgiveness in a place of punishment and the restoration of life in a place which, for so many, feels like a dead end. Worship provides an opportunity for men and women to be lifted above their circumstances into the liberating world of faith and love. .

Group Work

Bible studyA prison chaplain will frequently be involved in leading groups for Bible study, Discipleship courses and programmes that address offending behaviour. Such groups enable chaplains to meet with prisoners on a regular basis and help nurture them in the faith.

The level of conversation is often more insistent and profound than in many churches, probably because the needs of prisoners are usually more urgent and because they have more time to reflect on issues of life and faith.


There are approximately 100 part-time Free Church chaplains and 50 full-time Free Church chaplains, of whom thirteen have been appointed co-ordinating chaplains. Together with chaplains from the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches , and in partnership with chaplains from all the major world faiths, Free Church chaplains work to create sacred space in prison where all faiths are respected and human life dignified.

David Blunkett once said that the vast majority of offenders are in jail because they have been exploited in one way or another. In these days their exploitation is mostly in relation to the drugs trade but there are many offenders who struggle simply to survive in our highly competitive world. Some are homeless, others rootless and many unemployed. A large number suffer from mental illness and a large number feel that they have no stake in society and owe it nothing. Young offenders, especially those with such a sense of hopelessness, are dangerous both in prison and outside. And their numbers are growing.

Increasingly, offenders are poor; not simply economically but morally, spiritually, culturally, educationally and socially. Terry Waite (former Archbishop of Canterbury's special envoy) when speaking of his long time in solitary confinement said that that the one thing that sustained him during his ordeal was the spiritual and cultural capital that he had acquired over the years. But what of those who have never known life to be good or lovely; who struggle to make sense of their situation; and respond to life in the same brutal way it has dealt with them. They have needs which prison simply cannot meet.

It costs over £500 to keep a person in prison for just one week, which seems like an expensive way of making bad people worse. Many of them will lose their jobs, accommodation or family support as a result of coming into prison,

In his book 'Changing Lenses', Howard Zehr shows that our present system fails to meet the needs of those most impacted by crime. Even the courtroom is just a little unreal - like a stage set where a drama is performed by 'professionals' the lawyers and barristers and judges; and the real people, those whose story it is, the victim, the offender and the community are reduced to spectators and can only contribute as and when instructed. The drama is between two abstractions. No-one gets to tell their story.

Restorative Justice (RJ) offers an alternative to the spiral of blame and retribution. It works from the premise that crimes are to be viewed less as violations against the State and more as violations against people. When seen through the restorative lens, the important question is not "Who is to blame?" but "How can we make things right for all concerned?" How can we make thing right for people who have been seriously violated or for an offender who feels no sense of shame, guilt or responsibility? The criminal justice system centres around making sure that offenders get what they deserve. RJ is more focussed on the needs of victims, offenders and the community. It emphasises the importance of participation by those who have been most impacted by the offence and gives all the opportunity and empowerment to help in the process of making things right

The priority of RJ is to ensure that offenders are made fully aware of the damage they have caused and of their liability to repair that damage. Victims and offenders alike are helped to view each other in a new way. In meeting with offenders and telling their stories, a high percentage (74%) of victims testify to a greater sense of satisfaction than simply going through the courts.

Restorative justice can help repair the emotional and physical harm done by an offence. It is a process whereby parties with a stake in a specific offence collectively resolve how do deal with the aftermath of the offence and its implication for the future. It seeks to balance the concerns of the victim and the community with the need to reintegrate the offender into society. It seeks to assist the recovery of the victim and enable all parties with a stake in the justice process to participate fruitfully in it.

(Restorative Justice Consortium)

Prison Chaplaincy and Faith groups play a significant role in promoting Restorative Justice with such programmes as:-

Sycamore Tree

Prison Fellowship has developed a Restorative Justice programme called Sycamore Tree which raises victim awareness among offenders and teaches principles of RJ. Surrogate victims talk through the way crime has impacted their lives prompting offenders to offer some form of restitution or reparation. The most moving part of the programme is when offenders recognise the damage they have done and seek reconciliation and healing from those they have harmed.

SORI 'Supporting Offenders through Restoration Inside'.

The 'SORI' programme offers a restorative justice process that brings together the victims of crime, offenders and community members into personal contact. SORI aims to provide satisfaction for victims within a safe and supportive framework. The offender is helped to understand the harm she/he has done through their criminal behaviour; by listening to the experience of victims, they are challenged to take full responsibility and to make real amends.

Circles of Support and Accountability

Circles of Support and Accountability work with sex offenders in an attempt to help them avoid further offending. The idea originated in Canada and was sponsored by the Mennonite Community. In Britain , it has been championed by the Quaker Crime and Community Justice Group and is now being taken up by others, including local Community Chaplaincy projects.

For many offenders prison is a dead end of punishment, exclusion and wasted lives. Restorative Justice, in contrast, is about new beginnings, forgiveness and redeemed lives, and therefore closer to the heart of the Biblical understanding of justice.

          Worship material for Prisons Sunday


And can it be?
O for a thousand tongues to sing.
Brother, sister, let me serve you.
To God be the glory
The kingdom of God
Come let us sing of a wonderful love


Old Testament: Jeremiah 29v10-14
Gospel Luke: 7v36-50
Epistle: Ephesians 2v1-10

See Prisons Week publication:


Restorative Justice (RJ) has its roots in Judaism. 'Shalom' is the Bible's word for salvation - it means justice and peace. There can be no justice without peace and no peace without justice. As Howard Zehr says in his influential book, RJ is a peacemaking response to crime for all those persons affected by it. It is not just one theme among many but a basic core belief which is central to the idea of covenant. It expresses God's fundamental intention for Israel . All the most important themes of the Jewish Scriptures including atonement, salvation, forgiveness and justice have their roots in 'shalom' . It is God's intention that all people should live in physical well-being. Secondly, that God's people should live in harmony with each other and with God. Over and over again, the Jewish Scriptures make it plain that oppression and injustice are contrary to 'shalom'. Thirdly, it carries an ethical dimension. There can be no 'shalom' without the restoration of social, physical, spiritual, and moral justice. It teaches us that 'shalom' is possible only when we care for one another, even in wrongdoing.

Jesus took up the theme in all he said and did. His Gospel is always about the Good News of the Kingdom in which even repentance is seen not so much as conscience, but conversion; not a guilty verdict, but the announcement of forgiveness. Christ frees us from that whole universe of condemnations, debts, courts, punishments, expiation and shame, in order to introduce us to a new world of grace. Not, however, the cheap grace that costs nothing but a grace in which the offender feels the pain and weight of responsibility, and longs to make 'shalom' between offender and victim. It was grace that freed Zacchaeus from his greed, the prostitute from her clients and Matthew from his profession. With the most gracious words and tender gestures, he did something that cold, grey, analytical eyes alone could never do for them. He helped them to know their true value and gave them hope for a better future.

The Good News is just this 'Your sins are forgiven' Not that they will be forgiven but that they are. It simply requires a step of faith into this astonishing world where punishment does not inevitably follow sin, nor vengeance follow an offence or where grace does not follow reparation - but precedes it.

The mercy and grace of Jesus were the means by which they knew themselves to be sinners; but more precisely, forgiven sinners. The love of God is always generous if not extravagant, and can evoke radical changes in the hearts and minds of all so that as the hymn-writer says; ' the vilest offender who truly believes that moment from Jesus a pardon receives'.

A few weeks ago, The Archbishop of York, told a story that had come out of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. A woman addressed Desmond Tutu to tell him of her son's savage murder. The police officer who had ordered the brutal killing was present sitting shamefacedly listening to the details of what he and his colleagues had done. Then there were a few moments of quiet.

The Chair of the Commission, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, asked the woman if she had anything to say to the man who had killed her son. She responded, 'I am very full of sorrow. So I am asking you now - come with me to the place where he died, pick up in your hands some of the dust of the place where his body lay, and feel in your world what it is to have lost so much. And then I will ask you one thing more. When you have felt my sadness, I want you to do this. I have so much love, and without my son, that love has nowhere to go. On turning to the policeman she said 'So I am asking you from now on - you be my son, and I will love you in his place.'

Her action illustrates the extravagance of the Gospel. The Church at its best introduces a new dimension as it stands alongside victim and perpetrator. Restorative Justice from a Christian perspective recognises that the dividing line between good and evil cuts through every human being; that we are all sinners in need of grace. The emerging Church is learning new ways of doing justice by building communities where acceptance and reconciliation become second nature and ' Shalom' is restored.

Compiled by: Revd Alan Ogier, Superintendent Methodist/Free Church Chaplain to HM Prison Service,The Prison Service Chaplaincy, 3rd floor, Abell House, John Islip Street, London SW1P 4LH. Tel: 020 7217 8048 

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