The Catholic Church “must act as a critical stakeholder and vanguard of prison reform,” says Justice expert

‘We incarcerate more people than any other country in Europe. Far too many people in our prison system are there as a result of mental illness. And every year, for far too many people, prison is a death sentence, as a consequence of suicide or violence.’ This is how Pact’s CEO Andy Keen-Downs opened the 10th Sir Harold Hood Memorial Lecture event last week.

The 2023 Sir Harold Hood Memorial Lecture was given by Dr Chijioke Nwalozie, a senior lecturer in Criminology & Criminal Justice at De Montfort University. Alongside his academic qualifications and prison chaplaincy experience, he is the founding director of Prisons Support Services Nigeria. On his theme, ‘The Church’s Participation in Prison Reform’, and drawing on scripture, Dr Nwalozie affirmed that, ‘When prisoners are poorly treated, the Church must act as a critical stakeholder and vanguard of prison reform’. When addressing the vital role of prison chaplains, he added an unscripted remark: ‘There are many saints in prison. Ask anyone working in chaplaincy and they will tell you.’

In keeping with Pact’s identity as a pioneering, life-changing charity with its roots in the Catholic church, the evening provided nourishment for the head, the heart and the soul. Laura Manders gave a beautiful lived experience testimony in which she described her first ever uncertain attempts to pray, separated from her children and alone in her prison cell. Laura is a senior member of staff at Pact now.

The Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir communicated Pact’s mission and solidarity with those affected by imprisonment, through songs: Change the World, Amazing Grace (which prisoners return to many times), and to welcome our speaker, Wa Emimimo (a song from Nigeria which means Come Holy Spirit).

A number of prison chaplains were among the audience. On our panel, Governor Emily Thomas of Isis Young Offenders’ Institution, highlighted how much she values having chaplains among her team. Her words were echoed by panel member Revd Beverly Fraser, Anglican Managing Chaplain at HMP Highdown womens’ prison. Revd Beverly stressed the absolute centrality of chaplaincy among the wider prison staff.

“An estimated 97,000 children will go to bed tonight without their mum or dad because they are in prison,” said Theresa Alessandro, Catholic Community Engagement Manager at Pact.

“It was a first for Pact to host this lecture in a Catholic School – and yet fitting. We often remind people that there are children in our schools and families in our parishes who are serving a ‘hidden sentence’ alongside their loved one in prison and do not speak of it because of our society’s stigma.

“There were recurring themes of bringing hope and of human dignity during the formal part of the event as well as in the many conversations over wonderful refreshments later. It was a lively gathering of Pact staff, parish reps and volunteers together with members of the Hood family, of partner organisations, ecumenical friends and colleagues, chaplains, Dr Nwalozie’s own family and friends, and many people who care about how the values of our faith can inform a better criminal justice system.”

The Sir Harold Hood Memorial Lecture text.

The event was kindly supported by the Sir Harold Hood Charitable trust and CCLA Investment Management.

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About the Prison Advice & Care Trust (Pact)

Pact is a pioneering national, Catholic charity that supports prisoners, people with convictions, and their children and families. We provide caring and life changing