Tony O’Riordan SJ and Eoin Carroll, from the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, recently hosted a study trip to a number of support projects for people coming out of prison in London and Leicester. The travelling group consisted of several Irish prison chaplains and a member of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. They were deeply impressed with the mentoring system used by these projects, whereby each prisoner is ‘befriended’ and assisted in re-integrating in the community.
What was unique about the projects visited by the JCFJ group is that they follow a particular model of support called ‘Community Chaplaincy’. Originally developed in Canada, Community Chaplaincy aims to support ex-prisoners through the prison gates and successfully back into their community. With strong ties to the chaplains within the prison, volunteer mentors are paired with inmates six weeks before leaving prison; on their release the ex-offenders now has a person who can offer support, guidance and friendship.
The level of support provided by the volunteer mentors – also referred to as be-frienders – can be as simple as a phone call, taking them to appointments, encouraging them when they feel low or help them get involved in a hobby or sport.
Community Chaplaincy also provides further ‘added value’ to the rehabilitation of ex-offenders – the 8th Pathway. Within the UK prison service “7 Pathways” are used to assess ex-offenders needs; when fulfilled, the risk of re-offending is considerably reduced. The “7 Pathways” are: 1) accommodation, 2) education, training and employment, 3) health, 4) drugs and alcohol, 5) finance, benefit and debt, 6) children and families, and 7) attitudes, thinking and behaviour. The Community Chaplaincy 8th Pathway refers to the provision of religious needs; and where appropriate, the Community Chaplain will link the ex-offender to their local parish.
Support from the St. Stephen’s Green Trust facilitated this initial exploratory study trip to London and Leicester, and will also assist in further examination, in the Irish context, of the Community Chaplaincy support model for ex-offenders.