Current statistics show that throughout our prison estate there are over 80,000 men, women, children and young people serving custodial sentences. This is approximately the capacity of the huge San Siro stadium in Milan. This number is far too high, and something needs to be done about it.
Crime and anti-social behaviour is huge among children and young people. BBC Three recently released a documentary series called Britain’s Forgotten Men. It follows a group of teenage lads who carry knives for safety reasons and shows younger children skipping school and robbing from local shops for giggles. I’m sure that this is not just Manchester’s problem but an issue right across our nation.
Over the course of last year there were 74,784 arrests of children and young people. That’s enough to fill Old Trafford football stadium, with some left over. Of this number 35,234 children and young people were taken to court (enough to fill Stoke City’s stadium). Of these, 25,700 children and young people were given either a custodial or community sentence (more than enough to fill Fulham FC’s stadium). These numbers again are simply too high.
At Youth for Christ, we want to do something about this and see these numbers fade away. There are approximately 900 children and young people serving sentences behind bars at any given time. That’s 900 children and young people who have been ripped away from families and friends. Okay, they might have done something to warrant this, but surely prison is not the only option. The problem is that by sending a child or a young person to prison, from the moment they are released they are labelled as an ex-offender. This means that their opportunities for housing, employment and other important things are dramatically reduced. Thus, making it even more difficult to leave that vicious cycle of crime and punishment behind.
We believe that we hold something that can meet the needs of those in prison and those who are at risk of a custodial sentence. We place outreach workers in Young Offender Institutes and any other prison that houses young offenders. These courageous men and women offer mentoring, pastoral support and informal education. This consists of a collection of courses called myLife which cover topics such as ‘Communicating Differently’, ‘Managing Emotions without them Managing You’ and ‘Entrepreneurship’. All courses develop life skills in young people, using a holistic approach. The courses are hugely effective and are making a difference not only amongst young people in prison, but also young people in schools and PRU’s across the country.
The Ultimate Answer
Of all the great things we can offer young people in prison, the most important thing is the hope of the gospel. Our outreach workers hold weekly sessions exploring who Jesus is and the difference and impact He can have on our lives. Ultimately, it is only Jesus who can rebuild the most broken of lives.
There was a prisoner who we shall call James (not his real name). He made some bad life-choices that began to get him in trouble with the police and through circumstances, some of which were his fault, James found himself serving a prison sentence for a violent crime. Whilst in prison, he met one of our outreach workers who began to mentor him. Through this he decided to go to chapel services and Bible studies. James began to learn more about who Jesus is and in response he gave his life to Him! James started to pray in his cell by himself and Jesus really began to change his life. He developed such a passion for telling others about the gospel that other inmates nicknamed him ‘Jesus’ – prisoner Jesus.
This is just one story out of many that I could have chosen. God is moving through the prisons in this country and He is still in the business of restoring broken lives. We are Youth for Christ and we are about seeing young people’s lives changed by Jesus.