Catholic Seminar on Criminal Justice

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Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN), the Catholic Bishops’ Conference agency for domestic social action is holding a one day seminar at Allen Hall Seminary in London tomorrow (21 September) to deepen debate, inform policy and initiate action around criminal justice. Speakers include Mgr Malachy Keegan, Prisons Adviser to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales; Neil Jameson from Citizens UK; Linda Maytum-Wilson, from CSAN member Anchor House; Paul O’Shea, a London sixth-form college Principal; and Mike Nellis, Professor and expert in criminal and community justice, together with theologians, academics, commentators and those engaged in the criminal justice system or affected by crime.

The Backdrop to the Seminar

In September 2011, there were 87,744 people in prison in England and Wales, at an average cost per place of at least £45,000. This equates to 152 people per 100,000 population in prison, as compared to 85 per 100,000 in Germany and 102 in France. Why do we spend so much and imprison so many of our citizens? Why did 75% of those aged over 18 charged in the recent civic disturbances already have criminal records?

Policy debate about crime and criminal justice in England and Wales is now entering a new phase, with fresh challenges and opportunities for the Catholic Church. In December 2010 the Government launched ‘Breaking the Cycle’, a consultation document that proposed a major shift in Government policy towards targeting investment the effective rehabilitation of offenders. The consultation attracted more than 1200 responses (including from the CSAN membership). The Government’s Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill 2010-11 is currently passing through Parliament. Meanwhile, the Prison Reform Trust found in a recent poll that 9 out of 10 people also backed the idea of restorative justice, where offenders are encouraged to repair the harm they have done – a key part of Secretary of State for Justice Kenneth Clarke’s ‘rehabilitation revolution’.

A Place of Redemption

The seminal document for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference’s thinking around restorative justice is A Place of Redemption. Published in 2004, it is now timely, to look anew at this document and the seminar will help to build this fresh understanding and insight.

The seminar is part of the CSAN’s Criminal Justice Project, funded by the Plater Trust with the overall aims of deepening debate, informing Church and governmental criminal justice policy and initiating action, within principles of restorative justice. CSAN has a strong background in social action around criminal justice, with several member organisations working alongside offenders, ex-offenders and their families both inside and outside prisons.