Prisons and Punishment in 21st Century Britain

On 10th February, the Benedict XVI Centre held a webinar on Prisons and Punishment in the 21st Century. We were joined by Caritas Social Action Network and the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales in organising the event.

There is currently much talk about covid 19 to the exclusion of other policy issues. But, even when we do discuss the post-covid future in relation to questions such as social care and missed educational opportunities, the 84,000 people who are in prison, and those who work and volunteer in prisons, are ignored. They do not seem to be part of the “build back better narrative”. However, Catholics and other Christians should be alert to the problems in the criminal justice system.

We were joined for the event by the Reverend Jonathan Aitken and Bishop Richard Moth. Jonathan Aitken served in the cabinet in the Major government of the early 1990s. More recently, he has been an Anglican vicar. As is widely known, after serving in Her Majesty’s government, Jonathan Aitken spent seven months in prison. But this was also a life-changing experience in a positive way as his later vocation shows. Bishop Richard Moth is Bishop of Arundel and Brighton and he leads for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales on prisons.

And Jesus said: “I was in prison and you came to visit me… whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

The event covered issues and questions such as:

  • The impact of covid on prisons, prisoners and staff.
  • The work of Christian prison chaplains.
  • How Christian chaplains and visitors bring hope into prison communities.
  • How often is it that a prisoner will find God in the apparent darkness of the institution and convert to Christianity?
  • What might be done to reduce the prison population?
  • What are the alternatives to prison?
  • What can we do as individuals to bring hope to our prisons?

We are called, personally, to help those in prison. In the Psalms, it is written: “The Lord hears the needy and does not despise his captive people”. And Jesus said: “I was in prison and you came to visit me… whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”  The event was designed to help us focus on these themes.

If you want to hear the discussion, it is available on the St. Mary’s University youtube channel:


Photo by Grant Durr on Unsplash

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Author: Philip Booth

Published: 16th February 2021

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© Catholic Social Thought 2020