James Penn profiles the Bourne Trust, the Catholic charity that helps the men and women behind bars
CONVICTED MURDERERS Jamie Petrolini and Richard Elsey are in for a hard time now they've started their life sentences. But one organisation they may derive comfort from in jail is the Bourne Trust.
With only nine staff covering the whole of England and Wales the organisation would seem to have its work cut out, but it nevertheless manages to fulfill an important social service in the care and consolation of the imprisoned.
Established nearly 100 years ago by Catholic lawyers worried about the fate of their defendants after they'd been sentenced, the Bourne Trust provides counselling and support to men and women in British prisons.
Till 1990 it was known as the Catholic Social Service for Prisoners. The renaming after Cardinal Bourne, who acted as President for 35 years was intended to clear up a recurrent misunderstanding that it was only for Catholics.
In fact it is for everyone, and not just prisoners but their families as well.
With such a small staff to cater for a prison population which has just passed the 50,000 mark, its activities are restricted by its ability to get members of the public to volunteer their services. Till recently it did have another office in Preston, but this was put paid to by a shortfall in finances. As a result it is still pretty much London-based.
As well as the service it offers prisoners in terms of advice and visiting, it has started up two other prisonrelated initiatives. One is a counselling service for remand prisoners at 10 London prisons, and the other a counselling service for the families of the imprisoned.
There is more, according to Bourne Director, Maurice Price: "We are setting up a new visitor centre in the summer of next year at Belmarsh in Woolwich where we will be able to handle 200 visitors at a time. Normally visiting can be absolute Hell on earth.
"We know from research that prison doesn't work. We have the largest prison population in the whole of Europe in absolute terms, and the largest per head of the population. Imprisonment is a grossly ineffective way of dealing with people", he added.
The years of work the Bourne Trust has put in make it an extremely useful organ, believes Mgr Peter Wilkinson, the Principal Roman Catholic chaplain to the prison service.
"I'm very encouraged by the new Director, Maurice Price. It has a hundred years of experience and is well known particularly for social work", he said.
"But it's not so much its past record, though I value that, but the fact that it now has a new interest and validity in trying to establish voluntary groups in different parts of the country. They ask questions like, "What are the needs of a particular area? How can we invite people to come under our umbrella?" "Chaplains to a certain extent offer a similar role, but there are several fundamental differences. Chaplains are primarily there for spiritual reasons and don't have a lot of time to deal with particular inmates. The Bourne Trust can deal with specific needs and follow them through."
Mgr Wilkinson added that chaplains had to do things like see to the statutory intake. At the end of each day they tend to be very aware they haven't seen the people they wanted to get back to.
"The Bourne Trust can actually help the learning process on behalf of the Probation Service and the Prison Service, and feed back ideas to us by which we can make the prison system more humane", he went on.
"Many prisoners are incredibly frightened by other inmates and the system. The Trust can help them overcome that and help them if they've got a mortgage to pay, or their house is being repossessed, or their dog needs walking."