Businessman Sir Richard Branson and Justice Secretary Chris Grayling MP addressed the annual Prison Ministry conference hosted by Paul Cowley, head of Alpha for Prisons and Caring for Ex-Offenders, at HTB Brompton Road today.
Sir Richard, head of the Virgin Group, gave a video address and Mr Grayling, who is also Lord Chancellor in the government, gave a keynote speech. Nick Hardwick, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons, also spoke.
Mr Grayling, who was appointed last month in the government reshuffle, spoke of his gratitude to faith groups working in the prison system and of his determination to reduce the high level of reoffending.
He said, ‘You work in a particular field that is of great importance. The spirit of volunteering is so important to our community. The time you give up has a real impact. Thank you all for all that you do.
‘I want to pay real tribute to the faith groups who are involved in this arena, indeed who are involved with people from some of the most troubled backgrounds in our society.
‘Sometimes the work of faith groups is underestimated and underplayed and I think that is a tragedy and a mistake.’
Chairman of the Virgin Group, Richard Branson, addressed the audience via video message just before the Minister spoke.
In it he said, ‘I firmly believe that everyone deserves a second chance in life, so am encouraged to hear about the great work organisations like Caring for Ex-Offenders do to support those who have spent time in prison.
‘The CFEO model of linking individuals to a supportive church community, making sure each person is met at the prison gate, mentored and supported practically and emotionally, is truly transformative.’
Paul Baker, Governor of HMP Leeds, and ex-offender John Finlinson also spoke in the morning session, as did HTB Vicar Nicky Gumbel, who interviewed ex-offender Shane Taylor, once one of the most violent men in the prison system.
Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons and former Chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, spoke in the afternoon, as did Ray and Vi Donovan from the Restorative Justice Council and many people who are also involved in prison ministries.
The annual conference is for all those involved in Prison ministry, whether working or volunteering in prisons, Young Offender Institutions or with ex-offenders - particularly those in the UK.
Caring For Ex-Offenders seeks to help prevent reoffending and help integrate ex-offenders into society.