Republic of Ireland news

Cross-community 4 Corners festival launched in women's prison

From left, Fr Martin Magill, Cheryl Lamont CBE chief executive of the Probation Board, director general of prison service Ronnie Armour and Rev Steve Storkman during the launch of Belfast’s cross-community inter-Church 4 Corners Festival in Hydebank Wood Secure College on Friday. Picture by Bernie Brown, Press Association

There is a role for wider civic society to play in the rehabilitation of offenders, an event has heard.

A women's prison in Northern Ireland hosted the launch of a cross-community arts festival on Friday evening.

Around 150 people attended the launch of Belfast's cross-community inter-Church 4 Corners Festival in Hydebank Wood Secure College.

The event was co-hosted by the Northern Ireland Prison Service and the Probation Board for Northern Ireland.

The 4 Corners festival was co-founded by Presbyterian minister Rev Steve Stockman and Catholic priest, Fr Martin Magill.

Speaking at the event, chief executive of the Probation Board Cheryl Lamont said the rehabilitation of offenders "is one of the least understood areas of public policy".

Ms Lamont said there was a role for wider civic society to play in rehabilitation.

"That is why events like this are so important," she said.

"The more we talk about it, and engage with wider society, the better we will know what is involved and how everyone can play a role in building - not only safer communities - but communities of grace.

"Many of us have much to be grateful for – a stable home, a supportive family, a decent education, a good job. For in different circumstances who knows what choices or decision we would have made?"

Director general of the Northern Ireland Prison Service Ronnie Armour said launching "an event like this in a custodial environment would just have been unthinkable not that long ago".

He said: "It is the first time such a festival has been launched in a prison and is a demonstration that prisons are now very much part of the community. They are not apart from the community.

"The problems of society are concentrated in our prisons and therefore it is vital that we challenge offending behaviour and support individuals to change."

Reflecting on the theme of the festival, he said: "Building a City of Grace has at its core a desire to make society better by delivering real change.

"Changing lives and making communities safer is central to the work of the Prison Service as prison staff and our partners focus on rehabilitation, resettlement and reintegration of those in our care.

"Delivering rehabilitation is complex and demanding and can only be achieved when positive and constructive relationships exist between staff and those in their care. That ethos is central to the work we do."

The Rev Steve Stockman said: "Asking questions as to what we do with those sentenced in our courts is a crucial issue to ask questions about.

"Grace is a powerfully redemptive word and we who follow Jesus believe that even those who commit the worst of human crimes can be redeemed."

The 4 Corners Festival, now in its eighth year, will run from January 31 until February 9 and its theme is Building A City Of Grace.

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