The PACT Harold Hood Lecture: Bringing Hope and Dignity to Imprisonment

Main Speaker the 2023 PACT Harold Hood Lecture

Dr Chijioke Nwalozie

‘We incarcerate more people than any other country in Europe. Far too many people in our prison system are there as a result of mental illness. And every year, for far too many people, prison is a death sentence, as a consequence of suicide or violence.’ This is how Pact’s CEO Andy Keen-Downs opened our 10th Sir Harold Hood Memorial Lecture event last week.

Pact is the national Catholic charity providing support to prisoners and their families across England & Wales. The charity holds the Lecture in memory of the late prison reform champion and great friend to Pact, Sir Harold Hood. The charitable trust formed in Sir Harold’s name supports the Lecture and Pact’s wider work.

The 2023 Sir Harold Hood Memorial Lecture was given by Dr Chijioke Nwalozie, who is a senior lecturer in Criminology & Criminal Justice at De Montfort University. Alongside his academic qualifications and prison chaplaincy experience, he is the founding director of Prisons Support Services Nigeria. On his theme, ‘The Church’s Participation in Prison Reform’, and drawing on scripture, Dr Nwalozie affirmed that,

‘When prisoners are poorly treated, the Church must act as a critical stakeholder and vanguard of prison reform’.

When addressing the vital role of prison chaplains, he added an unscripted remark:

‘There are many saints in prison. Ask anyone working in chaplaincy and they will tell you.’

In keeping with Pact’s identity as a pioneering, life-changing charity with its roots in thePACT Harold Hood Lecture 2023 Catholic church, the evening provided nourishment for the head, the heart and the soul. Laura Manders gave a beautiful lived experience testimony in which she described her first ever uncertain attempts to pray, separated from her children and alone in her prison cell. Laura is now a senior member of staff at Pact.

The Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir communicated Pact’s mission and solidarity with those affected by imprisonment, through songs: Change the World, Amazing Grace (which prisoners return to many times), and to welcome our speaker, Wa Emimimo (a song from Nigeria which means Come Holy Spirit).

A number of prison chaplains were among the audience. On our panel, Governor Emily Thomas of Isis Young Offenders Institution highlighted how much she values having chaplains among her team. Her words were echoed by panel member Revd Beverly Fraser, Anglican Managing Chaplain at HMP Highdown women's prison. Revd Beverly stressed the absolute centrality of chaplaincy among the wider prison staff.

An estimated 97,000 children will go to bed tonight without their mum or dad because they are in prison.  It was a first for Pact to host this lecture in a Catholic School, and yet fitting. We often remind people that there are children in our schools and families in our parishes who are serving a ‘hidden sentence’ alongside their loved one in prison, and do not speak of it because of our society’s stigma.

There were recurring themes of bringing hope and of human dignity during the formal part of the event as well as in the many conversations over wonderful refreshments later. It was a lively gathering of Pact staff, parish representatives and volunteers, together with members of the Hood family, of partner organisations, ecumenical friends and colleagues, chaplains, Dr Nwalozie’s own family and friends, and many people who care about how the values of our faith can inform a better criminal justice system.

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