Crime, rehabilitation and responding to God’s nudge
Baptist churches can genuinely help those leaving prison by partnering with the Langley House Trust, one of England’s leading offender rehabilitation charities. By Samantha Waterton
An act of desperation…
It’s not often that a charity gets formed because someone set fire to a curtain. But this desperate act by a former prisoner was the inspiration of a group of Christian business men and women to create Langley House Trust – a charity which provides vital support and accommodation to those leaving prison.
The man who set fire to the curtain just wanted to go back inside – tragically, he felt safer and more ‘at home’ in prison than in society. Team K – as the group was known – recognised the desperate need to help those leaving prison and registered Langley in September 1958. The first project then opened in Winchester in 1959 under the inspirational leadership of John Dodd. A former prisoner of war, John’s traumatic experiences of prison life was part of his passion to help former prisoners in the UK.
From very humble beginnings – supporting less than 20 men – the charity now provides advice, support and housing nationally to approximately 1500 men and women every year. By God’s grace, we have grown to be one of England’s leading offender rehabilitation charities with one of the lowest reconviction rates in the country – just 2.6 per cent for those in our housing.
The worrying state of prisons
The prison population has spiraled to almost 85,000, and incidences of violence and sexual assault in prison have more than doubled in the last five years. The number of deaths in prison is the highest on record since recording began. Shocking footage of riots and news of prison escapes has shone the spotlight on a prison system that is suffering from a shortage of staff and overcrowding in some 66 per cent of prisons (1). At the end of 2016 a former deputy prime minister and two former home secretaries said jails had become unacceptably dangerous, and that the prison population should be reduced to 45,000.
The overcrowding and staff shortages have drastically limited the amount of rehabilitation prisons can do.
The reality of reoffending
The temptation to reoffend when people then leave prison is often fuelled by homelessness, addictions, poor mental health and previous trauma. Like the man who set fire to the curtain, some people feel that they are safer on the inside. Jimmy, one of our former clients said: “I didn’t feel comfortable outside [in the community]. Prison was my world – I was respected, feared. I dreaded coming out.”
This is where we come in
Our work involves supporting people both in prison, through the gate as they leave and then in the community. Through our Kainos Community ‘Challenge to Change’ programme we help men in prison address their thinking, attitudes and behavior, so that they live differently on the outside. Through our Langley projects, we provide a stable home where people can address issues with addictions and mental health, as well as seek work, pursue education and help to rebuild family connections, where possible. Innovative projects like our ‘pathways’ programmes offer clients a ‘pathway’ out of crime and into training and employment, including setting up their own businesses.
Most importantly, our work involves helping people to believe that they can change – which often means giving someone a first, second and tenth chance to see change become a reality.
Trevor*, a former heroin addict, is now living independently in the community. His reputation before coming to Langley was as the most prolific burglar in his neighbourhood. “I had been in and out of prison so many times and I heard that Langley was a place that would help me stop offending. I was not sure what to expect but – well – being here is so much better than I could have imagined.” He is now heroin-free, holding down a job and providing for his young daughter.
What the church can do
Team K was deeply motivated by God’s love to reach out to those broken, marginalised and on the edges of society. The need to do this hasn’t gone away. Those leaving prison, despite having served their sentences, still often face marginalisation, rejection and fear from communities, and that sometimes includes churches.
Yet churches play an invaluable role in this work. From praying, to providing project chaplains and volunteers to giving, they get involved and respond to Jesus’ call to support the ‘least of these’ (Matthew 25). We in turn help churches with how to engage with former offenders and provide training and supervision for our volunteers.
Responding to God’s nudge
Have you felt shocked or saddened as you read this, particularly when hearing about the state of our prisons? Have you felt that ‘still small voice’ saying ‘it’s time’? You might be being nudged to pray, give or volunteer.
If you are a local church with a passion to help people, we would love to hear from you. We have projects in: Bedford, Bradford, Bury, Cheltenham, Coventry, Fleetwood, Lancaster, London, Luton, Northampton, Medway, Rochdale, Somerset, Wakefield and Winchester.
We also need church support around the three prisons where we run Challenge to Change: HMP Guys Marsh (Dorset), HMP Haverigg (Millom) and HMP Ranby (Nottinghamshire).
To find out more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.langleyhousetrust.org.
Samantha Waterton is the Head of Communications at Langley House Trust
*names changed to protect identity
1. Statistics taken from Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile, Autumn 2016.
Taken from Prison Hope, a partnership of denominations, prison chaplains and organisations involved with prisoners, former prisoners and their families.
We pray for those in prison
Who have given up hope of a different life.
We pray for the victims of crime
Who cannot shake off their fear.
We pray for those who work in prison
Who are overwhelmed by their task.
Unite us all in the power of your love,
Your justice and your mercy,
Through our Lord and Saviour
Written by Mother Susie Simpson, Managing Chaplain, HMP/YOI Isis