With the child of a prisoner seven times more likely to end up in prison than their classmates, Prison Fellowship is calling on parishes throughout the country to support its programmes.
National Director Phil McCarthy says after just months in the job he is blown away by the passion and commitment of staff, volunteers and partners to promote such projects as Angel Tree which brings hope and joy to the lives of offenders’ children with a Christmas gift on behalf of their father (usually) in prison.
Recently Angel Tree has developed into BreakAway – Community Family Care which provides ongoing care and support to ‘these often-forgotten families’.
BreakAway organises camps, monthly events, counselling or simply meets practical needs as they arise. Phil says Prison Fellowship is a link between the churches and ‘the lost, the last and the least’.
He says through the churches, Prison Fellowship can offer wraparound support, community interraction, a sense of belonging and the potential to contribute, ‘because research says that’s what people need’.
‘We need to challenge the Christian community to harness the volunteer effort that’s there to live the gospel. ‘The key to prisoner rehabilitation is that it is not enough on its own.
‘People are not like cars. You can’t just fix one bit and expect everything to run smoothly. That ignores the fact that we are built to be in community and other reintegrative needs are important.’
Phil says as a society, New Zealand believes that prison sentences are an effective response to deep-seated social ills and will correct behaviour.
‘All the research says that punishment doesn’t change behaviour, especially the serious violent and sexual offending we are most concerned about. And it does nothing to address the real, social causes of crime.’
He says some people do continue to be at risk but not that many. This country does not need eight and a half thousand prison beds.