THE Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has urged the Scottish Government to consider investing in visitor centres at each of the country’s jails.
Right Reverend David Arnott, who was previously part-time chaplain at HMP Barlinnie, spoke out after his visit during National Prisoners’ Week to Perth Prison Visitor Centre, which is jointly supported by the Kirk’s social care arm, CrossReach, and the Scottish Prison Service.
Families visiting the centre have access to a wide range of services including an introduction to prison visiting procedures, parenting support, benefits and housing advice and information on a wide range of issues which affect them.
It is widely acknowledged by experts that prisoners who are able to maintain good family ties are almost six times less likely to re-offend. In 2010 almost 4,500 came into the Perth Prison Visitors Centre, and over 1,000 of this figure were children.
The Moderator said: “The sad fact is that for many prisoners, prison is a revolving door. Anything we can do to encourage a change in that pattern deserves the support of all interested parties.
“The Visitor Centre at Perth Prison provides one way for prisoners to maintain contact with families whilst serving their sentence. This has been shown to reduce re-offending but, unfortunately, only three out of 16 prisons in Scotland have such a facility.
“The Church of Scotland Guild has shown the way with its financial support of the centre in Perth. Now is the time for the Scottish Government and the Scottish Prison Service to invest more heavily in these centres.
“With over 16,000 children in Scotland with a parent in prison the need for these centres is obvious.”
The centre has been hailed by a range of high profile figures including Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, and Scotland’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, Brigadier Hugh Monro.
At the Kirk’s General Assembly in May former Chief Inspector of Prisons and Moderator Very Reverend Dr Andrew McLellan said that visitor centres were “the single best investment for reducing crime”. He also told ministers and elders facilities like those in Perth were “astonishingly outcome driven and productive”.
The Church of Scotland Guild adopted the centre as one of its six partner projects from 2009-12, and so far has contributed over £125,000.
Mr Arnott also viewed “Perth’s Got Talent” – a collaboration of exhibits by prisoners from HMP Perth, and presentations varied from music and drama productions to cookery displays as well as an art and pottery exhibits.
Mike Inglis, governor at HM Prison Perth, said: “We are delighted that the Moderator has found time in his busy schedule to come to HM Prison Perth. We greatly value the help and support which we receive from the faith community throughout the year.
“It is fitting that during Prisoners’ Week we take the opportunity to highlight this contribution and make the public aware of the work that goes on.”
The Moderator is also preaching at a special service for Prisoner Week tonight (24 November) at St Mark’s Church in Perth at 7pm.
Notes to news desks:
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CrossReach, the social care arm of the Church of Scotland, is one of the largest operators of social care services in Scotland with over 80 homes and projects offering care and support to thousands of people in need every day
More children in Scotland each year experience a parent’s imprisonment than a parent’s divorce. 16,500 children in Scotland each year have a parent in prison. Over half of them witness their parent’s arrest. There is a well recognised link between parental offending and the risk of children offending in the future. The Chief Inspector of Prisons has called for more support to be available to families of prisoners both in order to help break intergenerational cycles of offending and to reduce the risk of those in prison offending again when released.
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