Supporters fighting to save four "Christian wings" in British prisons have been heartened by an invitation to present new proposals to the government's prison service, according to Ian Aldred of the Kainos Community, which funds the wings.

The wings are earmarked for closure—the first as soon as January—despite claims that they improve inmates' behavior and their chances of resettlement into society.

The Kainos Community is a British charity specializing in rehabilitation programs based on Christian principles.

The charity—whose name comes from a Greek word signifying "new beginnings"—financed the wings as prototypes for the entire U.K. prison system with the hope that they would eventually receive funding from the prison service. However, the prison system announced in November that it did not wish to spend public money on taking over and running such wings.

Aldred, chairman of the charity whose supporters come from many denominations, said at the time he was "baffled" by the decision not to fund the wings.

Now the prison service has asked Kainos to make new proposals that are expected to include suggestions over funding.

The two sides differ on the significance of Kainos' work in prison wings at The Verne (Dorset), Swaleside (Kent) and Highpoint (Suffolk), where there are Kainos wings in both the women's and the men's jail.

Since the first such prison wing opened in 1997, about 1,300 prisoners have been involved.

Kainos says that once released from prison, former inmates of the Christian wings—who volunteer for the program—have a short-term re-offending rate of 23 percent. The charity accepts a prison service finding that the general prison population has a re-offending rate of 26 percent after one year.

Martin Narey, head of the prison service, described the reconviction rates of the two groups as little different, but Aldred said, "In no way does this mean the Christian wings have failed. Three percent is an enormous improvement in lives changed and money saved [when ex-convicts are sent to jail again]."

Critics of the closure plan claim the government has a different agenda—not to offend Muslims, who do not have access to similar facilities.

Former cabinet minister Jonathan Aitken, who was jailed for perjury in 1997, is the most high-profile supporter of the campaign to save the Kainos wings. He says they are being shut down by "bureaucrats overreacting to Muslim concerns."

Aitken, a former free-spending socialite, was convicted of perjury after losing a libel action against the Guardian newspaper. He was found to have lied about his links to the controversial businessman and owner of Harrods department store, Mohamed Al Fayed.

He is now a theology student in Oxford.

He wrote in the Daily Telegraph: "I was one of many prisoners helped by faith along the road to change. I can't bear to see the men on the Kainos wings denied their chance to travel a similar road."

As well as improving their chances for resettlement, Kainos wings also improve inmates' behavior while inside, according to supporters.

D Wing at The Verne used to be so violent it was called "Beirut." Since Kainos took over the wing, the Daily Telegraph reported, there have been no drugs and little violence, with disciplinary appearances before the governor dropping from almost 200 annually to 13 last year.

Related Elsewhere:

Daily Telegraph coverage of the story includes:

Jail staff oppose moves to close Christian wings — Nov. 15, 2001

Sacred mysteries (opinion) — Nov. 12, 2001

Prison Service shuts down Christian wings — Nov. 1, 2001

Joel Edwards, director of the U.K.'s Evangelical Alliance,.also spoke out against the closings in his BBC religion column (audio | text).