Christian ministries tackling mental health in prison


by Jennifer Valentine-Miller

According to the head of an independent review into suicides in prisons, the HM Inspectorate paper has documented that the rate since the 2007 review has increased by more than 50%.  This percentage was drawn from over 220 new prisoners who completed the reception screening form (GHQ12) which indicates primary or secondary mental health needs.

The Labour peer Lord Harris was asked by the government to conduct a review on how to reduce self-inflicted deaths in custody.  The major question that will be asked is are there interventions that could have been done which could have saved the government money – by stopping mental health needs ending up in the criminal justice system in the first place?  The BBC reported recently that  “obviously there will always be a core of prisoners who do need to be in prison. But, if some of the others were not inside, there would be more resources to make sure those individuals were supported and prison achieved its objectives in terms of rehabilitation.”

The Ministry of Justice covers transfers from prison to hospitals under the Mental Health Act 1983. Their guidance also covers work with restricted patients detained in hospital and those discharged into the community.

The Orthodox Church (OC) in America claims that more than 2 million prisoners are being held in federal or state prisons or in local jails. Building and maintaining prisons is one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States. Yet many of us feel that prison ministry is better left to the “professionals,” prison chaplains, or those specially trained for this kind of work. The OC also went on to say that everyone is called to undertake prison ministry because firstly it is a biblical command.  Secondly, many jails and prisons have no full-time or even part-time chaplains or any religious services at all.  Even in prisons that have chaplains, they cannot possibly minister to more than a small percentage of inmates there. And thirdly, statistics tell us that for every person incarcerated, there are three to five other people affected:  families, loved ones, and children.

The national newspaper for prisoners and detainees in the UK which is named, InsideTime, raised an issue which emphasized and agreed that prison chaplains should have keen interest and concern for all inmates.  Every prisoner should have the opportunity to speak with a chaplain. The article also went on to say that “a majority of prisoners may not wish to avail themselves of the opportunity, but at least people should be given the choice to yes or no thanks to the offer of a listening ear”.

Kingdom Keys is a Bible teaching ministry, passionate about teaching the truth of God’s Word in a clear, practical and effective way. They have found through the many people they met in prisons, “many genuinely want to change, some  convert to Christianity for the first time and others return from backsliding into a criminal lifestyle.”  The team  deliver a 4-week course within a national HMS prison; the theme for the weekend is entitled Battle of the Mind.  Satan never plays fair. And the reason why it is so intense is that your greatest asset is the mind. I know what it is like when you unable to hear God. My mind is distracted and I cannot seem to connect with God even when I want to connect to God. And I know whatever gets your mind gets me. So one of the most important things we need to be learnt and teach others is how to guard, strengthen, and renew our minds, because the battle for sin always starts in the mind.

However,  from within the prison walls of  HMP Brixton they are more than willing to announce that their prisoners are given access to faith-based services within the prison’s establishment.  ‘Faith in the Future’ is a six-week, full-time resettlement course.  It runs for 30 men, five times a year and covers victim awareness, budgeting, parenting, communication skills and employability. They discuss moral issues and have a module called Christianity Explored.  HMP Brixton went on to say that the course is open to men of any faith who are willing to explore from a Christian perspective the resettlement issues that might bind their minds or infect their conscience.