Our Story So Far
Over the years Christians in the UK have responded to Christ’s call to visit those in prison (Matthew 25). Reformers such as John Howard and Elizabeth Fry did much to alleviate the appalling prison conditions in the 18th and 19th centuries. Christians influenced 19th century prison legislation which provided for individual cells instead of dormitories and for the appointment of three members of staff – governor, doctor and chaplain.
The beginnings of PF across the globe
Prison Fellowship was founded in the United States in 1976 by Charles W. Colson, following his release from prison after serving a sentence for a “Watergate” related crime. Prior to his imprisonment, Mr. Colson had served as chief counsel for President Richard Nixon. His time in prison showed him the importance of a Christian witness in prisons and on the basis of his experiences he founded Prison Fellowship in the USA.
This became the basis of a worldwide organisation – Prison Fellowship International, which is now the world’s largest and most extensive association of national Christian ministries working within the criminal justice field.
At about the same time, in England Sylvia Mary Alison believed God was calling her to develop Christian ministry in our prisons, but was not clear about the way forward. Once she heard about the founding of Prison Fellowship in the USA, she believed this was the answer to her prayers, and so in 1979 Prison Fellowship England and Wales was founded.
PF England and Wales
Initially, Prison Fellowship was not allowed involvement within the prisons and they were told that all they could do was pray. We have never regarded prayer as a ‘consolation prize’ but instead as a great privilege. Prayer groups were eventually established across the country to pray for every prison and these groups are still foundational to our work. We now have over 115 prayer groups, with over 2000 volunteers praying for our prisons, supporting chaplains and running PF programmes.