Probation Officer Amy Walden gave us a unique insight into the needs of nonreligious prisoners at our December meeting and how these are being met by a pilot project offering Humanist support.
The proportion of non-religious prisoners, 31%, is in line with society in general yet there is an assumption that their emotional and psychological needs can be Christian chaplains. For example, when a prisoner’s family member is seriously ill or has died, it is always a chaplain who delivers the news. Not all prisoners are allowed to attend the funeral – they are offered time to sit in the chapel instead, and for prayers to be said and the chaplain is there to provide emotional support.
But not all non-religious people feel comfortable talking to a religious person for advice. There is a void in this area and no guidance given, as if atheism is a taboo and not important. Some questions and needs of nonreligious people require a non-religious person to deal with them – for example bereavement and making sense of the world.
Amy explained that a non-religious chaplain or Humanist adviser can give non-religious prisoners a voice and redress the imbalance of provision for religious and non-religious prisoners. Non-religious prisoners find it helpful to be able to talk to a Humanist adviser who can provide guidance, help and support through difficult times, particularly bereavement. They also find it helpful to attend atheist meetings to discuss their views, beliefs and opinions with like-minded people, and to support each other. A Humanist adviser can facilitate acknowledgement and acceptance that non-religious beliefs are also a ‘norm’ and give advice on how to deal with situations appropriately when a religious person challenges atheist views.