Accompanied by colleagues from PCI’s Council for Mission in Ireland, which has responsibility for PCI’s prison chaplaincy, the Moderator was invited to tour Northern Ireland’s only high security prison by its co-ordinating chaplain, Presbyterian minister Rev Graham Stockdale. During the tour, prison governor David Kennedy and Ronnie Armour, Director General of the Northern Ireland Prison Service, briefed Dr Henry on the new facility and progress that was being made at the prison.
“During our time at Maghaberry we were given a terrific insight into a thoroughly modern prison and the welcome focus that is being placed on the rehabilitation of offenders in their care,” Dr Henry said.
“In so many different aspects, the new building has been specifically designed to put rehabilitation at the centre of the work of the prison, along with support for those who are vulnerable. When talking about the prisoners, I was impressed by the repeated use of the phrase ‘men in our care’, which is a demonstration of this different approach,” Dr Henry said.
“It is good to see what has been done in recent years and hear that inspectors report that the prison is delivering some of the best outcomes that they have seen. I was also pleased to see, and hear, the value that the Prison Service places on chaplaincy and the role of the chaplains from across the denominations.”
Dr Henry said that when he became minister of Maze Presbyterian Church in 1997, the nearby prison was still operational and he was very much aware of the stress and pressure that prison officers, and their families at home were under. “Then as now, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to those who serve and work in our prisons, often working in challenging circumstances.
The Presbyterian Church in Ireland ministers to prisoners and staff across all of Northern Ireland’s various institutions. These also include HMPs Magilligan and Hydebank Wood College, which incorporates the Northern Ireland Women’s Prison. Presbyterian ministers also minister to young people at Woodlands Juvenile Justice Centre in Bangor, which the Moderator visited in October. On request, PCI ministers visit prisons in the Republic of Ireland.
“During the visit, it was good to hear of the change that is taking place in Maghaberry and the state-of-the-art building that is part of this new approach ‘in building a safer community’, as Ronnie Armour put it. We hold all the staff, and those involved in chaplaincy, in prayer and thank God for them,” Dr Henry said.
With 372 cells, the building also houses a 12 bed ‘safer cell unit’ equipped for vulnerable prisoners. The Prison Service says that the key to the development of Davis House has been its design research, which sought to improve the wellbeing of staff and those in its care. The Prison Service said that it researched a wide range of design sources, including hospitals, therapeutic centres, studies on trauma informed design, studies on designing for older people, and studies on autism friendly spaces, where the relationship between people and their environment is a key element to their recovery.
Dr Henry yalso praised the work and role of the prison’s chaplains. “In this very special and underfunded role, prison chaplains work hard to bring the love of Christ to those in custody and help to change lives. It isn’t just that they do ‘good work’ they are doing ‘God’s work’, ministering to the whole person, especially those who are vulnerable. I was pleased to hear that they are considered very much part of the life of a healthy prison,” he said.
Speaking after the visit, Rev David Bruce, Secretary to the Council for Mission in Ireland said, “As a Church we continue to be committed to prison chaplaincy across Northern Ireland. We recognise that this work reflects the character of Jesus and his desire that we reach out, in love, to people in need, but it also needs to be adequately funded.
“All the churches receive funding towards the provision of chaplains, but like many public services the cuts that have been imposed in recent years have severely restricted what can be done. With the restoration of devolution and the appointment of a Minister for Justice, we hope that a more realistic enhanced funding provision will be put in place to secure the service in the future.”
Photos (1) the Moderator with Maghaberry goveneror David Kennedy in Davis House (2) Davis House (credit McCoopers/NIPS), which is based on the radial design of Pentonville Prison in London (3) left to right are David Kennedy, the Moderator and Ronnie Armour, Director General of the Northern Ireland Prison Service in HMP Maghaberry's chapel.