Victoria's Anglican Criminal Justice Ministry has this year come under the umbrella of Anglicare Victoria - a move designed to create a greater support network for the Ministry's activities.
The Revd Jonathan Chambers, who as Senior Chaplain co-ordinates the Ministry and is now based at Anglicare's head office in West Melbourne, said the greatest need for prisoners was for assistance when they were released. He believes if parish volunteers can be equipped with professional skills, an important support network could be developed.
At present, prisoners are released and there is limited support for them on leaving gaol. "The prison system's ethos has been to look after prisoners until they are released," Mr Chambers said. "There needs to be on-going assistance - provision of accommodation, help with job prospects and emotional support - to ensure they are able to adjust back into society and to have other options than returning to former friendship networks which would lead to criminal activity."
Mr Chambers tells a story, which he says, is all too common. Last year a man was released from a maximum-security prison in Gippsland and was met by old friends who were into drugs. However he only got as far as the next town before overdosing and dying.
Mr Chambers said the Ministry's role was to provide chaplaincy services in all Victorian prisons, and it had government contracts to carry out this work in both government and private prisons.
One of the primary aims is to help prisoners maintain contact with society and their families whilst in prison - especially so that release becomes smoother.
"The hardest thing is when the prisoner gets out, they need support – but often the family unit has broken down."
Mr Chambers said about 80 per cent of people in Victorian prisons today were incarcerated because of crimes relating to drugs. He said that there had also been a 30 per cent increase in the number of people in Victorian gaols over the past five years - with the drug problem again the major reason.
"Usually the crime committed is theft in order to feed their drug habit," Mr Chambers said. "Unfortunately we tend to treat these people as criminals, not as addicts or someone with an illness. We need to find better ways of dealing with the drug problem our society has today."
The Anglican Criminal Justice Ministry comprises 13 Chaplains, as well as the Senior Chaplain. Anglican chaplains work with other faiths and denominations in providing a chaplaincy service. "We're there for anybody looking for spiritual support, or someone to talk to - we provide someone who cares and has a listening ear without an agenda," Mr Chambers said.
Article from: Anglican Media Melbourne