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Justin from his cell: 'We can do better'

The Bishop of Wellington sentences himself to a week-long vigil in a cell on the forecourt of the capital's Anglican cathedral. 

Taonga News  |  13 Oct 2013

A week long prayer vigil by Justin Duckworth, the Anglican Bishop of Wellington, aims to focus discussion and action on building a society that gives each prisoner the best chance to avoid a return to crime.

Bishop Justin Duckworth will live for a week, from this Sunday, October 13, on the front steps of Wellington Cathedral of St Paul in a small cabin, like a monastic cell.

During that time he will be alone as he prays for over 8000 prisoners and their associated victims across New Zealand.

The action is part of a week-long focus on penal reform by the Anglican Church in Wellington with the theme, We can do better.

Church communities have been invited to pray and discuss possibilities as to how patterns of offending can be stopped with alternatives other than prison and prisoners eligible for release being given every chance by society to turn their lives around.

The vigil is not a protest against current policies and the Department of Corrections. There are recent moves to help prisoners including individual educational assessments and additional programmes for rehabilitation and reintegration. 

Bishop Justin says systems always need to be examined and there are alternatives to prison that are often more effective at reducing crime.

“Society and the church need to keep asking themselves if they want a system that simply punishes or one that changes behaviour and means less reoffending and fewer victims. Some responsibility for prisoner rehabilitation and reintegration sits with Corrections but some also sits with society, the church and each one of us as it needs to happen in our own backyard,” says Bishop Justin. 

“The theme still emerges from some quarters of ‘whoever locks up the most wins’ on occasions and that is when society actually loses as punishment does not always change behaviour. A ‘locking up’ approach does not address factors that drive crime and the need to reintegrate prisoners back into society,” says Bishop Justin.

Six focus points

The week has six focus points:

  • the causes of crime are often other issues in society such as poverty, violence, and drug and alcohol dependency - these cannot be solved through the criminal justice system alone
  • the potential for restorative justice
  • alternatives to prison – New Zealand has a high rate of incarceration and punishment alone does not change behaviour
  • the impact of imprisonment – prisons can be a school of crime and create dependency rather than addressing what causes crime
  • the children of prisoners – at any one time, more than 20,000 children in New Zealand have a parent in prison and are those children are 7 times more likely to become prisoners themselves
  • prisoner reintegration – when released prisoners face significant reintegration issues.  Corrections is doing good work on removing some barriers but research shows two thirds of those released each year still reoffend.

Bishop Justin will preach at the 10am service in the Cathedral on Sunday morning October 13 and then enter the ‘cell.’ He will leave the ‘cell’ the following Sunday morning to lead the 10am service. He will lead a communion service each day at 12:15pm with an address on the daily focus points. 

“I am turning to prayer in a vigil and invite others to join me in their own way, that may be through prayer, discussion or debate. This action is not to criticise and is not a protest, Rather, it is to express hope for a safer society with everyone taking ownership of the issue of penal reform,” says Bishop Justin.