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Govt minister says Christians have the power to transform prisons

by Cara Bentley

Over 500 people gathered at HTB church in Kensington in London on Monday to hear from ex-offenders, prison chaplains, judges and alpha prisons leaders.

Being interviewed by HTB's pastor Nicky Gumbel was Rory Stewart MP, the government's prisons minister since January this year, who claimed in August that if he couldn't reduce violence and drugs use in prisons in 12 months he would resign.

With nine months to go on that commitment, Stewart told Gumbel how he still believes it's possible and how Christians are in a prime position to contribute to the rehabilitation process, another one of his responsibilities in the ministry of justice.

The former diplomat first spoke of the influence of his own faith in his life, saying: "I find it the most - for me - the most wonderful cornerstone of my life".

When asked what Christians can do alongside politicians to cut down re-offending rates, Stewart replied: "I think Christians do have a very important and special role in dealing with prisoners - that's partly because of the centrality of prisoners in the Bible.

"We have to remember that St Paul was a prisoner, that many of the people that we admire most in our church, many of the early martyrs and saints were prisoners and that continues to be true today."

"It is the fundamental insight that each one of us is the unique inheritor of God and that none of us can be distinguished - that underlies the project of rehabilitation, underlies the fundamental concept that lives matter and that lives can be changed, that people can be forgiven."

He said if this principle could be combined with a sense of realism about our criminal justice system, real progress could be made: "If you can overcome all of that - all of that gritty, normal, pragmatic problem - and connect that to your faith, your hope, then I think Christians are among the very, very most powerful part of the transformation of prisons."

The MP for Penrith and The Border finished by praising the work of community chaplains, who welcome ex-offenders into their church and society.

He said: "The community chaplaincy role in probably the single most powerful way of turning around people's lives."

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