A pioneering Christian course for prisoners in Dartmoor has been closed by the Prison Service after criticism that it did not comply with “diversity policies”.
The Inner Change programme was adopted last year as a pilot by the Rev Bill Birdwood, the chaplain at Dartmoor, but was axed last month after apparently falling foul of the Government’s “multi-faith” approach.
Prisoners who convert to Christianity through the programme are expected to live disciplined lives, eschewing drugs and pornography.
They are also followed up after their release to try to ensure that they do not re-offend.
Supporters say that in some US states where the programme has been developed recidivism has been reduced to eight per cent.
Lady Georgie Wates, of the Prison Fellowship, who helped set up the course, said the future of Christian teaching and chaplaincy in prisons was now hanging in the balance.
“There are two reasons for the closure,” she told the Church of England newspaper this week. First we don’t comply with the diversity policy of the prison service because we teach the sanctity of heterosexual marriage, as the Bible says, which is seen as homophobic. And secondly, because we don’t fit in with the multi-faith agenda.
“They think we should be teaching a bit of every religion and that what we’re teaching offends other faiths.
“If we teach Jesus is the Son of God, of course it is going to offend people.” But she said that should not be a reason for curtailing the programme.
The Inner Change course was staffed by volunteers and funded outside the prison service.
At its recent accreditation review prison officers testified about the positive effect it was having among previously difficult prisoners.
The Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, who recently expressed concerns about the marginalisation of Christianity in chaplaincies, said he regretted the closure of Inner Change.
He said the closure seemed to be because the programme was “too Christian”.